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Government eco-town proposals open to legal challenge

The Local Government Association (LGA), Liberal Democrats and Tories have today put their weight to lawyers warning the Government's approach to eco-towns contravenes planning legislation.

The LGA asked John Steel, QC and James Strachan to advise on this new style of development and in a joint opinion document found that: "The concept of an eco-town does not appear to be materially different from the concept of providing housing in new settlements in an environmentally sustainable way, something which is already recognised in PPS3 [planning policy statement] on housing.

"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."

They add that the Government's intention to rely on new PPS policy, due to be published later this year, "appears to be designed to circumvent the normal plan-led process", and that there could be grounds to mount a legal challenge to its proposed approach.

In response to the advice LGA chairman Sir Simon Milton said: "While we are in favour of tackling the housing crisis by building thousands of extra homes ...we don't think this is the right way to do it."

For the Tories, shadow housing minister Grant Shapps, said: "This will add weight to the argument that ministers have effectively destroyed their own eco-town project."

Meanwhile, Liberal Democrat shadow communities and local government secretary Julia Goldsworthy argued that the advice: "must sound the death knell for this attempt to bypass the local planning process and local public opinion."

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