Prescott faces fight over 13,000 homes

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The Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, is being taken to court by a local authority after he ordered it to find room for nearly 13,000 extra homes, thousands of which will go on greenfield sites.

A High Court Judge told West Sussex county council yesterday that it had won permission for a judicial review into a controversial decision by Mr Prescott's Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions.

It had told the council to increase the provision for new houses in its structure plan, a strategic blueprint covering the years 1994 to 2011, by a third.

The hearing will probably take place in May. The county hopes the High Court will agree with it that Mr Prescott's intervention was unreasonable, and order it to be overturned.

West Sussex had identified room for 37,900 homes in its structure plan to supply the strong demand for extra housing. It had commissioned an exhaustive and pioneering "environmental capacity study" which concluded that any extra housing would do severe harm to the county's largely rural environment.

A government-appointed panel of planning inspectors held a public inquiry into the structure plan and agreed with that figure. Two thirds of the proposed 37,900 homes would have been built in existing towns and villages, the rest on greenfield sites outside them.

But in December the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions intervened, telling West Sussex it must take a greater share of the South-east's rising population.

Harold Hall, chairman of the county's strategic planning committee, said yesterday: ``The whole country will be watching to see whether our application succeeds.''

The department declined to comment yesterday.