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High Court orders judicial review over HMR transitional fund

Campaign group Save Britain's Heritage (SAVE) has won the right to a judicial review of the Government's £35 million transitional fund to help councils after the closure of the Housing Market Renewal (HMR) fund. 

The transitional fund was launched by former Housing Minister Grant Shapps. It was aimed at helping councils adapt to the abolition of the Pathfinder demolition scheme, which was financed by the HMR fund.  Shapps scrapped that scheme in November 2011. The £2.25 billion HMR programme had been intended to tackle low housing demand and abandonment across the North of England and the Midlands. 

SAVE appealed to the High Court when Freedom of Information requests made it clear that the transitional fund would be used to demolish 5,000 homes. The campaigners said in a statement (4-page / 616KB PDF) that this was "effectively continuing Pathfinder by stealth in direct contravention of Mr Shapps' promises to Parliament".

The Government said that Shapps had not been informed that the funds would lead to demolitions on such a large scale, which was against his own stated policy. However, it argued that there was no point in progressing to judicial review as most of the funding had already been spent. It would be "legally extremely problematic, if possible at all" to unravel the payments, it said.

SAVE argued that the majority of the money had not been spent and that it should be recovered by the Government. Many of the buildings acquired using the funds had not yet been demolished and the funds should instead be redirected to refurbishment, it said.

Mrs Justice Lang ruled that SAVE was entitled to have the claim considered in a full judicial review and that the issue is in the public interest.

"We were appalled that funds assigned by the Government for refurbishment have been used for continuing demolition," said SAVE President Marcus Binney. "These judgements potentially open the door towards one of the most important and productive regeneration schemes in Britain, with renovation of thousands of empty homes and local landmark buildings."

"Far from forcing on the Secretary of State a weapon he does not want to use, we believe he is already sympathetic to the local campaigns. We hope this will steel Mr Pickles’ resolve to help residents still in the grip of an extremely destructive policy,” said SAVE director Clem Cecil.

The judicial review hearing is expected to take place in January 2013.

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