In his written ministerial statement of yesterday, Bob Neill made clear the Government's intention to now proceed with an environmental assessment of the revocation RS and to do this during the passage of the Localism Bill. This EA is to be "voluntary" but the environmental reports (one per region) which are produced will be consulted on in line with the 2004 Regulations. These are amongst the regulations which transposed the SEA Directive in the UK.
Some interesting points arise here, not least of which is whether or not the Government is required to meet the Regulations or whether it can maintain its stance that the move is voluntary. Even if voluntary, will the Government follow the full extent of the Regulations or be selective? The minister's statement suggests that reports will be compiled - and then consulted on. The Government's own practical guide sets out the 5 stages of SEA with the report preparation being the third stage. The first 2 stages include scoping (which has its own consultation requirements) and developing alternatives.
It will be interesting to see how much work (if any) is done on these first stages before the report is prepared, or indeed whether the Regulations are followed in terms of the content of the environmental report itself. The Regulations are quite prescriptive in prescribing the matters which must be included in the report.
What we do know is the purpose of the exercise; "We consider that it would be useful to assess whether there are any significant environmental effects of revoking each regional strategy." That being the case, is it safe to assume that the Government will at the very least follow those parts of the Regulations which deal with the determination of whether revocation of a particular RS is likely to have significant environmental effects? (presumably the answer could be different in different regions). The Regulations usefully set out criteria which must be taken into account when making that decision. These include the degree of influence RS has on other plans, its relevance in promoting sustainable development and the magnitude and spatial extent of the effects of revocation.
Given the reaction to the abolition of RS, (see for example this quote from the Select Committee's recent report; "Such planning uncertainty that currently exists could have social, economic and environmental consequences lasting for many years."), we could be in for an interesting time ahead. Cala Homes could turn out to have been just the warm up!