The Government recently announced that it is undertaking further environmental assessments and consultation, as part of the process of abolishing Regional Spatial Strategies (RSS). This follows largely as a result of a decision by the ECJ (see separate article) that the total or partial repeal of a “land use plan” should be subject to a strategic environmental assessment (SEA), if it could have a significant effect on the environment.

The intention to “rapidly abolish” RSS was announced over two years ago in the Coalition Agreement with the objective of removing centrally imposed targets, and making local or neighbourhood plans the basis for local planning decisions. An environmental assessment of the revocation of RSS was undertaken by the Government last year but was classed as voluntary. The SEA regulations will now be formally followed and each new report will be subject to consultation for eight weeks.

The only new SEA to be published so far is for the revocation of the East of England RSS. Its conclusion is similar to that of the original assessment, namely that the revocation is unlikely to have significant effects on the environment.

The proposed revocation of the Regional Strategies can be regarded as a material consideration in the determination of planning applications and appeals. This may cause some uncertainty with the outcome of the environmental assessments unknown, and with the partial revocation of the plans also a possibility. As local plans progress, a legal challenge to the revocation of RSS may be less likely, but it could be some time before there is a final outcome in all eight regions.