Communities Secretary Eric Pickles has been yellow-carded by the High Court in a rematch with Edinburgh-based Cala Homes over the abolition of regional spatial strategies.
On Friday the high court said that, until further notice, local planners should not take into account the government's stated intention to abolish regional spatial strategies.
Last month, on the application of Cala Homes, the court had ordered that the July decision by Pickles to revoke the strategies with immediate effect was unlawful.
However, following that ruling, Pickles and the government's chief planning officer [in a gesture widely interpreted as a two-finger salute to the courts] wrote to all local authority planning departments to tell them to "still regard" the decision to scrap regional strategies as a material consideration.
The government's chief planner Steve Quartermain said "Local planning authorities and the Planning Inspectorate should still have regard to the letter of the 27 May 2010 (from Eric Pickles announcing the revocation of regional strategies) in any decisions they are currently taking."
Consequently, lawyers for Cala made a further application to the court to challenge the lawfulness of that statement.
Accordingly, on Friday in the high court, Lindblom J, in a preliminary ruling, said: "The effect of the statement of the defendant dated 10 November 2010 and the letter dated 10 November 2010 as sent by the defendant's chief planner to all local planning authorities in England ... is stayed until further order."
A full hearing of the dispute has been expedited but is not likely to be heard until early next year.
Ian Ginbey, head of planning at Macfarlanes LLP, which acted for CALA Homes, said: "In the absence of substantive transitional provisions, we are seeking to restore some clarity to the planning framework. We are of the view that decision makers should not have regard to a mere intention to change the law at some indeterminate point in the future.
"The court has agreed with this approach, pending a full legal hearing into the lawfulness of the secretary of state's statement and the chief planner's advice.
"As such, until the outcome of that hearing is announced, it is clear that decision makers should have full regard to regional strategies as part of the statutory development plan."
If Cala are victorious again will we see an early bath for Mr Pickles - I hope not.
Photo by Sister72 via Flickr.