St Albans district homes site strategy faces further delays

A HIGH Court ruling last week has put consideration of new housing sites in the district on the back burner until the end of the month at least.

Cala Homes challenged Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Eric Pickles over the Coalition Government’s decision to scrap the Regional Spatial Strategy (RSS) – the housing targets laid down by the now-defunct East of England Regional Assembly for local authorities in the six counties which came under its umbrella.

The High Court found the decision to be unlawful but the government could yet appeal against the ruling. If it doesn’t the Coalition has made clear that there will be a clause in the forthcoming Localities Bill that will sweep away the regional planning strategies, including housing targets, of the previous Labour government.

The RSS proposed a target of 360 new homes a year to be built in the St Albans district but since its abolition, the council has been looking at reducing the figure to 250 homes a year.

Cllr Chris Brazier, the council’s planning portfolio holder, said that last week’s meeting of the planning policy advisory panel had been put back until November 25 in the light of the High Court ruling so that guidance could be obtained from officers.

“Either we wait for the Localities Bill or we want to know that if we proceed we are not going to be caught up in a legal tangle. We don’t want to delay it, we want to move forward but as the High Court ruling was issued the day before our meeting we had to put it back.”

The core strategy includes prospective housing sites in the district suitable for construction until 2028. It will go out for public consultation and then feed into the council’s planning blueprint, the Local Development Framework.

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The panel has taken out a number of controversial Green Belt sites it looked at last year and is expected to consult on up to nine sites including school land. It also proposes to increase the amount of affordable housing required from developers to 40 per cent.

Cllr Brazier added: “Apart from protecting the Green Belt, the main driver for the selection of strategic housing locations is the provision of infrastructure and community benefits, most particularly educational benefits for schools and colleges.”

Bernadette Hillman, head of the planning team at local solicitors Debenhams Ottaway, said that the implications of the High Court ruling were very significant in the short term at least. It now meant there was a window of opportunity for developers before the Localities Bill which is due to be launched later this month, she added.