THE Government has effectively torn up regional housing targets for Wiltshire.

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles wrote to all local authorities urging them to ignore top-down targets contained in the UK’s regional spatial strategies (RSS).

The RSS covering Wiltshire and the rest of the south west region has still not been finalised despite six years of political wrangling and multiple drafts, examinations and consultations. Controversially, however, the latest draft said Swindon should provide a total of 34,200 new homes by 2026, and north Wiltshire a further 13,700.

A Bill promising to abolish the targets, and “return decision-making powers on housing and planning to local councils”, was included in the Queen's Speech.

But Mr Pickles said he did not want communities to “wait any longer to start making decisions for themselves”.

In his letter to councils, he said local planning authorities and the Planning Inspectorate – which might otherwise have pushed through developments against the wishes of local councils – should treat his written confirmation that targets would be scrapped as a “material planning consideration” in any future decisions.

A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said the letter would provide cover for Wiltshire councils to discount the RSS when taking planning decisions, even though the Decentralisation and Localism Bill, which would formally abolish the strategy, is not expected to come into force until next year.

Mr Pickles said: “I’ve promised to use legislation to stop local communities being bossed around by unaccountable regional quangos, but I’m not going to make communities wait any longer to start making decisions for themselves. That’s why I have written to all councils to let them know from today they can make decisions about new building in their area in the knowledge regional strategies and the unelected regional assemblies will soon be history.”

Last month, Swindon MPs Justin Tomlinson (North Swindon) and Robert Buckland (South Swindon), both of whom were elected for the first time on May 6, were advised by campaign group Shelter that long waits for council housing, difficulties getting on the property ladder and overcrowded homes would feature among their constituents’ most common complaints.

The housing charity, releasing the results of a survey of 150 MPs carried out before the general election, said almost three quarters (72%) had agreed that housing was one of the top three problems raised by their constituents while half (49%) agreed that housing was the most common problem for which constituents sought assistance.