Pickles compounds revocation defeat with implication denial

The pantomime season is nearly on us, so step forward everybody's favourite villain Eric Pickles.

However much the move had been trailed, the communities secretary dropped a clanger when he dumped regional spatial strategies (RSSs) this summer.

Now it has taken a costly High Court ruling to prove the point.

Just to show that this is a politician who knows everything is for the best in this best of all possible worlds, the DCLG has issued a bizarre letter effectively stating that the ruling does not matter because the government will legislate in due course.

Lawyers - the only beneficiaries of this farrago - already smell blood. When the courts declare a decision unlawful, ministers cannot simply ignore them.

A second point Pickles would do well to heed is that the DCLG was found seriously wanting in failing to subject revocation to strategic environmental assessment (SEA).

This reinforces the possibility of SEA becoming the weapon of choice for anyone seeking to challenge government policy. What price an opportunist taking a crack at the decision to take garden land out of the brownfield category in PPS3, for example?

Local authorities are now on the horns of a dilemma.

On the one hand, last week's ruling means that housing targets in RSSs are back in the mix when applications are decided. On the other, the government says it will scrap RSSs as soon as it can. But the forthcoming localism bill promises to be wide-ranging, complex and controversial, so it remains to be seen whether it will reach the statute book on target next summer.

Months of chaos may lie ahead, with the possibility of hefty costs against anyone who takes a false step. So far the government has refused to listen to pleas to set out transitional arrangements before the act is in place.

In the face of such uncertainty, this makes an upsurge in planning appeals all the more likely. For planners of a certain vintage, Pickles is giving the late Nicholas Ridley a run for his money with his performance in office so far.

Nice one, Eric.


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