In his report, the inspector contended that, because the East of England Plan is to be revoked – and North Hertfordshire District Council had made it clear that it does not intend to proceed with any plan of its own that complies with the East of England Plan – Stevenage’s core strategy was "undeliverable".
But Stevenage Borough Council took the issue to court, arguing that until the law was changed and the East of England Plan was revoked, both councils are compelled to plan for the expansion of Stevenage and to assume that the other will do the same.
A Court of Appeal ruling in June on the long-running CALA Homes case concluded that councils cannot take the government’s intention to scrap regional strategies into account when formulating local planning policies.
Stevenage launched a legal challenge to the inspector’s report on this basis. It asked the High Court to overturn the inspector’s decision and grant an interim declaration that it is not required to withdraw its draft core strategy.
But Mr Justice Ouseley, while recognising in his judgement that "these are very unusual circumstances" and that "Stevenage cannot now produce a plan that conforms generally to the regional strategy and is sound", found in favour of the government.
He stated that the "soundness of the core strategy in reality … foundered on a lack of lawful co-operation".
He added: "The law does not require North Hertfordshire to pretend it holds views which it does not hold and … will be looking to take advantage of the prospective revocation of the East of England Plan whenever it can."
In a statement, Stevenage Borough Council said it has reserved its position and will be taking further legal advice before making any decision early in the New Year.