Final Lap in Race to Abolish Regional Spatial Strategies
All of those interested in planning matters are aware of the Government's long-standing intention to abolish Regional Strategies outside London. The Policy was part of the Coalition Agreement and many will recall that the Secretary of State, Eric Pickles sought to expedite it by making the intention to abolish a material consideration. Unfortunately, this move created an uncertain policy environment in which RSS remained part of the statutory Development Plan but was significantly undermined.
The resulting uncertainty has continued although the extent to which the intention to abolish Regional Strategies is capable of being a material consideration and the weight to be given to it was subsequently clarified by the High Court decision in the third of the legal challenges brought by Cala Homes. The Judgment was that the circumstances in which weight could be given to the intention to abolish was limited, albeit the application of greater weight was possible as the then Localism Bill progressed. We do now, of course, have a Localism Act and whilst this has given the Secretary of State the power to abolish Regional Strategies, Pickles has so far resisted the temptation due to the need for a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) of the likely significant environmental effects of abolition.
All of the above highlights the slow and painful demise of the Regional Strategies and the continued uncertainty regarding their status. However, we now appear to be entering the end game following the publication of an updated Strategic Environmental Assessment of the decision to abolish the East of England Regional Strategy. The SEA takes account of rulings by the European Court of Justice and the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). The accompanying Ministerial Statement has confirmed that updated Environmental Reports for each of the other remaining Regional Strategies outside London will be published in the coming weeks.
So, in the same week that the Olympic Games finally opened in London, the long wait for the abolition of Regional Strategies may also be nearing an end, barring any unforeseen hurdles on the final lap and run in. On this point, interestingly the Environmental Report into the abolition of the East of England Regional Strategy suggests that the NPPF will step in to maintain and in some cases strengthen the positive environmental effects of the Strategy and boost housing supply where short to medium term delays to local plans and other local policies are anticipated under the new Duty to Co-operate. Some significant negative environmental effects are identified, such as water supply, but the Report is satisfied that these can be managed in other ways.
For those that have a specific interest and may wish to respond to the consultation, DCLG is accepting responses and comments on the SEA by Thursday 20th September 2012.