Stevenage mulls legal action after inspector bins plans

Stevenage Borough Council is considering legal action following an inspector's rejection of its plans for housing growth in the area.

Last week it emerged that inspector Douglas Machin had found the council's draft core strategy unsound because the housing targets it contained depended upon housing growth that a neighbouring council no longer intends to deliver.

North Hertfordshire District Council last year suspended work on a joint project to deliver 9,600 homes on land near the town.

The planned expansion - known as the Stevenage and North Herts Area Action Plan - formed part of the East of England Plan that the last Government approved.

North Hertfordshire suspended work on the project in June 2010, following communities secretary Eric Pickles' announcement of his intention to abolish regional spatial strategies (RSSs). The council is now setting its own local housing target.

During the inquiry into Stevenage's core strategy, the council advised the planning inspector that its new plans would be unlikely to provide for Stevenage's planned growth.

Stevenage Council said this convinced the inspector that the growth of the town planned in its draft strategy was "undeliverable".

However, a Court of Appeal ruling last week on the long-running CALA Homes case concluded that councils cannot take the Government's intention to scrap RSSs into account when formulating local planning policies.

The ruling is expected to have implications for councils that revised their planning documents in the wake of the RSS revocation (see News, p6).

Stevenage Council, which gave evidence in favour of CALA Homes during the appeal court hearing, said it will now reconsider its position in the wake of the ruling.

A spokesman said: "The council is aware of the CALA Homes appeal decision, but it is too early at the moment to say what implications it has for us.

While there may be the basis for a legal challenge, we have yet to make a decision on our next course of action."

The plans for the site to the north of Stevenage were being developed by the North Stevenage Consortium, which includes housebuilders Croudace Strategic, Bellway, Miller Homes and Wheatley Homes.

Meanwhile, Tom Brindley, portfolio holder for planning and enterprise at North Hertfordshire District Council, said that the council's revised plans may still meet the requirements set out in the East of England Plan.

He said: "As yet, we have not made any decision on what our core strategy housing target should be. We are looking at a wide range of possible targets, including some that would meet those of the regional strategy and hence the aspirations of Stevenage Borough Council."

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