Eco-Towns May Face Legal Challenge

PUBLISHED: 14:22 23 July 2008 | UPDATED: 21:31 31 May 2010

ECO-towns planned for Elsenham and Hinxton took another knock today, with the revelation that the Government s policy may be open to legal challenge. Legal experts John Steel QC and James Strachan have been investigating the legal issues surrounding eco-t

ECO-towns planned for Elsenham and Hinxton took another knock today, with the revelation that the Government's policy may be open to legal challenge.

Legal experts John Steel QC and James Strachan have been investigating the legal issues surrounding eco-towns for the Local Government Association (LGA), and have come to the conclusion that the Government's approach is in direct contravention of fundamental national planning policy.

A joint opinion published by them today said: "We are of the opinion that the Government's proposed promotion of eco-towns through a new Planning Policy Statement (PPS) is contrary to the basic principle - expressed through the planning legislation - of the plan-led system of development control."

The lawyers go on to suggest that the "eco" requirements of the proposed towns are already encompassed within housing policy, meaning new homes already have to be built in an environmentally sustainable way whether within an eco-town or not.

They said: "There therefore does not appear to be any compelling justification or rationale for seeking to promote eco-towns outside the existing statutory plan-led system, other than the Government's wish to avoid the system due to the need for proper scrutiny, which takes time."

Messrs Steel and Strachan went on to say that they could see no basis for the Government's eco-town approach to be treated differently from any other new development proposal, and that it should therefore have to undergo the same rigorous planning processes.

In conclusion, they said: "We consider that the proposed eco-town PPS is likely to be unlawful, as on all the information before us we conclude that it will be promoting a policy and process which would be inherently flawed."

The LGA, which has been opposed to the Government's eco-town policy from the outset, welcomed the news.

Chairman Sir Simon Milton said: "This expert legal advice supports our arguments that the approach the Government is adopting is deeply flawed. While we are in favour of tackling the housing crisis by building thousands of extra homes, some of them in developments with the highest environmental standards, we don't think this is the right way to do it."

However, The Department for Communities and Local Government strongly refuted the lawyers' conclusions.

"We absolutely disagree with the LGA's claims and believe this legal advice can only have been obtained on the basis of a misrepresentation of our policy," a spokesman said.

"We have made it absolutely clear throughout that eco-towns will be different and will have higher environmental standards than a normal development and the applications will also have to be considered through the normal planning process."

The scathing attack on the Government's eco-town policy comes just a week after a major landowner delivered a significant blow to the Hanley Grange development proposal by refusing to give up hundreds of acres of its land for the town.

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