SOME of Burnley’s most deprived areas may end up losing out on government cash after Tory Party chairman Grant Shapps admitted unlawfully signing off £35.5m. in grants.
Burnley Council had been allocated £1.4m. to demolish 732 homes as part of its housing regeneration strategy but, at a hearing at the High Court in London this week, a top judge ordered a judicial review after the grants, also awarded to 12 other local authorities, were challenged by heritage group Save Britain’s Heritage (SAVE).
Town hall chiefs could now be forced to repay the money or pledge to use it to refurbish existing homes.
The court heard Mr Shapps, when Minister for Housing, “had not been informed” his signature would mean large-scale demolition.
Government lawyers admitted that Mr Shapps’ decision was unlawful but argued it was all water under the bridge as much of the public money has already been spent by councils who should never have received it.
Save Britain’s Heritage insisted the cash had been paid in direct contravention of Mr Shapps’ promises to Parliament and councils should now be forced to repay the cash or allocate it to refurbishing homes previously targeted for demolition.
Mr Shapp is now facing embarrassment after Mrs Justice Lang ordered a full judicial review.
Mr Richard Harwood, for SAVE, said the campaign group agreed with Mr Shapps’ condemnation of the previous government’s policy as a recipe for destroying neighbourhoods and leaving families marooned in streets of condemned housing.
Mr Harwood said the cash had been paid out by the Department for Communities and Local Government before Mr Shapps realised proposals put forward by the councils involved would result in demolition of more than 5,000 homes.
Mr Shapps agreed the scale of demolition involved across the North was “unacceptable given stated government policy.”
Government barrister Mr James Eadie QC said it would be “legally extremely problematic, if possible at all” to unravel the payments which had not been “ring-fenced.” Much of the money had already been spent or committed.
Mungo Wenban-Smith, representing three of the local authorities involved, said Burnley had spent about 65% of the cash.
Mr Harwood said the wrongly allocated grants should either be recouped from the councils or a condition imposed that they be spent on refurbishing properties.
Ordering an urgent hearing of SAVE’s judicial review challenge, Mrs Justice Lang said: “I have given careful consideration to the evidence. The claimant has established an arguable case. While recognising the difficulty of elements of the case, a full judicial review is in the public interest.”
After the hearing, Mr Mike Cook, the council’s director of economic regeneration, said: “This ongoing issue relates to the £1.4m. the council was allocated to implement our agreed housing regeneration strategy. We worked closely with colleagues from other councils in Pennine Lancashire to win this money for the region, to conclude aspects of the Elevate programme.
“We are currently on track to spend the money implementing the programme that was fully agreed and signed off by government.
“We are aware of the ongoing legal case being discussed by SAVE, this is a matter for government to address, and it would not be proper for us to comment further at this stage.”