Tories urge clarity after "Pickles letter" sounds death knell for regional strategies in Parliamentary debate today

30 Jun 2010

Policy area: Planning

In a Westminster Hall debate in Parliament this afternoon, Tory MPs welcomed secretary of state Eric Pickles’ decision to scrap Regional Strategies, but warned that some councils had been stuck in “policy vacuum” by a lack of transitional guidance.

Secretary of State Eric Pickles wrote to all local authorities in England on 27 May, informing them of his intention to scrap Regional Strategies, a move that would free councils from central government housing targets.

Iain Stewart, Conservative, Milton Keynes South, said: “I strongly welcome the letter that the secretary of state sent to councils, but there is some doubt as to its legal status.

“I had a conversation with an officer in Milton Keynes council and they said there is legal doubt over the suggestion that the secretary of state’s letter will in fact be treated as a “material consideration” at appeal in the courts. That in the interim is a significant matter and I would be grateful for the minister’s clarification on that point.”

Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, Conservative, The Cotswolds, agreed that government must not allow uncertainty to lead to “paralysis” of the planning system and costly legal challenges by judicial review.

He said: “There is now a window of ambiguity. There is particular concern in rural councils where a major appeal can cost the equivalent of a 1% council tax rise.”

Mark Lancaster, Conservative, Milton Keynes North, who secured the debate, said: “I welcome the secretary of state’s decision to abolish RSs and commend him for the leadership he has shown in this matter.

“However, this does raise a number of serious questions, and the sooner we have the answers the sooner local authorities will be able to move forward in implementing local issues.”

Philip Hollobone, Conservative, Kettering: “Local people want an answer to the question ‘what do we do before 2021 with the existing [core] strategies and [local development] frameworks in place?’... There is a policy vacuum in the South West.”

Lorely Burt, Liberal Democrat, Solihull, welcomed the abolition of RSs, but said issues such as the allocation of sites for gypsies would need a regional approach: “There are some areas where we do need a regional strategy, and it is important we don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.”

Commenting on the debate, Liz Peace, chief executive of the British Property Federation, said:

“It is essential that we do not further undermine the recovery by letting uncertainty over changes clog up the planning system. Clearly there is confusion and we understand that measures are afoot to clarify this. Councils should not stop developing their local plans as a result of this letter and it is essential they have guidance in drawing up their local plans as quickly as possible.”