Scrapping RSS won't harm environment

22nd October 2011


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IEMA

Revoking regional plans aimed at ensuring sustainable development is unlikely to have any negative impact on the environment, according to the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG).

Strategic environmental assessments carried out by the DCLG conclude that scrapping Regional Spatial Strategies (RSS) is “highly unlikely” to result in any significant adverse effects to the environment.

Each of the eight RSS provides a broad development strategy within a region of England up until 2021 and includes policies covering housing, infrastructure, energy, transport and waste. They also cover regional obligations to protect the natural environment under European legislation and international commitments such the Kyoto Protocol.

The RSS were published in 2008 to replace regional planning guidance in line with requirements in the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004, but will be scrapped when the government’s Localism Bill is passed into law.

According to the DCLG assessments the government’s plans to impose a duty on public bodies to cooperate on planning applications that cross administrative boundaries, and other legislation such as the Habitats Directive, will provide adequate protection for the natural environment.

The DCLG’s environmental reports even state that scrapping the RSS could be a positive thing, arguing that it could help to remove the pressure on local authorities to review the amount of land protected as green belt.

“While the environmental effects cannot therefore be predicted in detail at this point, it is clear that the revocation of regional strategies and their top-down targets will provide opportunities for securing environmental benefits,” stated one report.

“This government is putting an end to unpopular, undemocratic regional plans, which imposed development on communities and threatened the countryside," said Local government minister Bob Neill. “We are putting planning powers into the hands of local people to take charge of local housing challenges in a way that makes sense for them while protecting the local countryside and green spaces they value.”

Overall the reports, which the DCLG is consulting on until 20 January 2011, conclude that “it is reasonable to anticipate that decisions taken locally will look to maximise positive environmental outcomes for the local area”.

However, some from within the planning sector refute the DCLG’s conclusions warning that revoking the RSSs will slow down the delivery of some regional infrastructure projects, such as incinerators, because no local authority will volunteer to take responsibility for them.

The assertion that the revocation is unlikely to have any impacts on local populations is also questioned, with one critic arguing the statement that local authorities will step in to increase the amount of housing as “disingenuous or an active attempt to twist reality”.

As the DCLG asks for feedback on its conclusions, some planning professionals are arguing that instead of revoking the RSS, it would be more reasonable to continue to plan for regionally important projects and targets at the regional level, while devolving the rest of RSS contents to the local level.

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