Headlines: April 6th, 2009

Countryside campaigners have given details of advice from a senior barrister which, they claim, throws the legality of Government plans for Eco Towns into doubt. The Campaign for the Protection of Rural England says the opinion, released today, means the policy needs radical revision if the Government is to avoid future legal challenges.

The CPRE says advice from John Hobson QC, its honorary standing counsel, makes it clear the proposed towns would fly in the face of established procedures which allow communities to agree the level and location of such developments through development plans.

In his opinion, Mr. Hobson says that by identifying selected sites outside the development plan process, and requiring that they be given material weight, the Government would be usurping the function of local planning authorities. He continues: “The promulgation of a list of identified sites in national policy guidance would represent an anomalous departure that would undermine the plan-led system. It would constitute a potentially unlawful interference with the statutory functions of local planning authorities in drawing up development plans and determining planning applications. The inclusion of the list of sites without a proper consideration of alternatives as part of the Sustainability Appraisal would also be unlawful.”

The CPRE has been pressing the Government not to go ahead with the policy in its current form and believes the new legal advice adds to doubts over the lawfulness of its approach. Kate Gordon, CPRE’s Senior Planner said: “Communities rely on a robust planning system to guide development to where it is needed most while protecting the countryside. Environmental Assessment requires proposals to be assessed for their effects on the environment and communities and compared with alternatives before being allowed to proceed.”