Prescott dealt blow over housing plans

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The Independent Online
JOHN PRESCOTT, the deputy prime minister, was dealt a double blow yesterday in the Government drive to develop parts of the green belt for housing.

The High Court ruled that he had failed to abide by the Government's own guidelines in giving permission for113 homes to be built on a greenfield site at a south coast resort as Hertfordshire County Council announced that it had decided to delay plans for 10,000 houses to the west of Stevenage. The council will ask Mr Prescott to intervene.

The environmental group friends of the Earth welcomed the ruling, describing it as "the first time that the Government has faced - and lost - a High Court challenge to a greenfield housing decision".

Mr Prescott, the Secretary of State for Environment, Regions and Transport, caused uproar in the Commons in February when he announced new guidelines requiring 60 per cent of housing to be built on recycled land.

He has already been asked to intervene in the development of 1,500 houses in the Aire Valley, Yorkshire, and could be facing a flood of appeals from other councils as well as Hertfordshire.

But the Government has insisted that 4.4 million new households will be formed between 1991 and 2016 in England.

The plans to build 113 homes in Peacehaven, East Sussex, caused widespread local protests because they were said to threaten the only undeveloped piece of land between Worthing and Newhaven.

An 18.61 hectare plot at Valley Road was earmarked for up to 113 bungalows and houses after planners identified "a shortfall" in the amount of land needed in the Lewes district for housing over the next five years.

But Mr Justice Harrison ruled yesterday that Mr Prescott erred in law when he gave permission for the scheme last November.

He said the minister and a public planning inquiry inspector had failed properly to consider concerns expressed by Lewes District Council that the development would "seriously prejudice" the local authority's strategy of focusing local development away from the already over-crowded coastal strip.

He added that neither the inspector nor Mr Prescott had taken account of the Government's own guidelines that planning permissions should not be granted where they would predetermine or prejudice local strategic planning considerations.

After the hearing, Simon Festing, FoE housing campaigner, said: "He [Mr Prescott] cannot ride roughshod over the opinions of local people by allowing so much greenfield development. "He must act now to lower rural house-building targets in the hard-pressed south of England."