The government has conceded that £35.5m in grants were unlawfully paid to local authorities to fund housing regeneration proposals which would have resulted in the demolition of 5,000 homes in some of the country’s most deprived areas.
A High Court judge was told that the then Minister of Housing had ‘not been informed’ that his award of the grants would spell the levelling of swathes of terraced homes in northern cities which were viewed as obsolete and blighted.
Government lawyers conceded that the minister’s decision was unlawful because the scale of the demolitions involved would be ‘unacceptable given stated government policy’. However, it was nevertheless argued that there would be ‘no point’ in quashing the decision because much of the public money involved has already been spent or irrevocably committed by the 13 local authorities concerned.
Lawyers for campaign group, Save Britain's Heritage (SAVE), argued that the councils should either be required to repay the money or to allocate it to refurbishing homes previously targeted for demolition.
Recognising the public importance of the issues raised by the case, Mrs Justice Lang granted SAVE permission to argue at a full judicial review hearing that the Minister’s decision should be overturned.
The grants had been heralded by the government as a major policy shift away from the previous government’s ‘Pathfinder’ housing market renewal policy which was said to have been a recipe for destroying neighbourhoods and leaving families marooned in streets of condemned housing.