Legal Viewpoint - Builder stymied by localism blueprint

It is somewhat ironic that CALA Homes, that most ardent opponent of the abolition of regional strategies, has become the recipient of one of the most pro-localism appeal decisions yet from communities secretary Eric Pickles.

Richard Ford
Richard Ford

In what is fast becoming known as the "Blueprint decision", the minister overturned an inspector's advice and refused permission for CALA's proposed 2,000-home community in Winchester.

The decision letter (

) is effusive in its praise for Winchester City Council's "Blueprint" process, which it says has "sought to engage with local people and organisations in the planning of their area and to adopt a bottom-up approach that will eventually inform the core strategy". While the inspector judged that this strategy was at too early a stage to support an objection on prematurity grounds, Pickles decided that, "in this particular case", it is important to give the council the opportunity to complete its process.

That qualifier seems intended to provide wriggle room in other decisions. Even so, the decision will hearten councils with dwindling housing land supplies. They are studying what is so exemplary about Blueprint, with a view to following suit.

In his strongly worded letter, Pickles describes returning decision-making powers to councils as "a key planning priority for government". He says that to allow such a major housing scheme at this stage "would be likely to undermine the work being carried out in Winchester to establish a new bottom-up housing strategy". Despite agreeing with the inspector that the emerging core strategy itself should carry little weight, he gives "greater weight" to Blueprint than he does to the need to ensure a housing supply.

This seems to go further than previous decisions on prematurity, certainly in emphasising the importance of local involvement in plan-making. For example, Pickles used less colourful language in setting out the circumstances in which it might be justifiable to refuse permission on prematurity grounds when he dismissed an urban extension proposal in Ipswich last autumn (

, 29 October 2010, p18).

These arise, he said, "where a development plan document, such as a core strategy, is being prepared or is under review, but it has not yet been adopted, and where a proposed development is so substantial, or where the cumulative effect would be so significant, that granting permission could prejudice the core strategy". He continued: "This could take the form of predetermining decisions about the scale, location or phasing of new development which are being addressed in a core strategy policy."

Last month's Working Together: Delivering Growth Through Localism practice guide from the Homes & Communities Agency is a useful attempt to reconcile the twin objectives of growth and localism. In the meantime, it seems that the Blueprint decision gives a shot in the arm to those campaigning for the localism side of the debate.

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