CAMPAIGNERS and politicians have welcomed the Government’s announcement that councils can ignore unpopular housing targets.

Eric Pickles, Brentwood MP and the new Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, has written to council planning chiefs following the Government’s promise to scrap unpopular housing targets.

His letter highlighted the Tory-Lib Dem coalition’s commitment to abolishing the targets and returning power on planning and housing to the people.

It also said a formal announcement on the issue was imminent.

The targets, under the East of England plan, mean councils like Castle Point and Rochford have to build thousands of new homes over the next 15 years, many on green belt land.

In the letter, Mr Pickles writes that decisions on housing, including the providing of traveller sites, will “rest with local planning authorities without the framework of regional numbers and plans”.

It also said councils can use the promise as “a material planning consideration” in any current decisions they are taking.

Last week, members of Castle Point Council’s development control committee rejected plans for 150 homes on former green belt land off Kiln Road, in Thundersley, against planning officers’ advice.

Campaigner Simon Hart, of Thundersley, and Daws Heath-based group Hands Off Our Green Belt, welcomed the news. He said: “Hopefully, it will give them the confidence they need to reject planning applications.

“Although it is still only guidance, it is good news.”

Tory MP for Castle Point, Rebecca Harris, has been pushing for an announcement.

She said: “I campaigned hard on the issue during the election and I brought Eric to see for himself some of the more controversial sites Castle Point Council was having to consider to meet Labour’s targets over a year ago.

“It is vital we get rid of these regional plans and that democratically elected councillors are free to put local people’s views and needs first, not the plans of some remote quango.

“It is important unpopular decisions aren’t pushed through before the Government has an opportunity to legislate.”

Meanwhile, Rochford’s planning councillor has urged the new coalition Government to change the law as soon as possible.

Keith Hudson said he welcomed the Government’s intention, but wanted it to act straight away, otherwise the district was still vulnerable to large-scale developments.

Rochford District Council has to built 5,500 new homes before 2025 as part of its core strategy plan, which has just been the subject of a public planning inquiry.

Mr Hudson said: “It’s something we’ve been banking on ever since we embarked on the core strategy.

“We need it to happen now, otherwise we are obliged to continue on the route we have.

“We have a lot of residents who are unhappy and need some certainty.”

Mr Hudson said he was aware of major planning applications being drawn up by developers to take advantage of the current housing targets.

Other councils have reportedly already taken steps to abolish their regional targets, such as South Oxfordshire District Council, which has withdrawn plans showing where 5,000 new homes would be built across the district.