The Stonehenge Farm Quarry Application

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Abolition of Regional Spatial Strategies

Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, has issued a statement to the effect that the Regional Spatial Strategies have been revoked.

In our Proof of Evidence to the Public Inquiry, we referred extensively to the Regional Spatial Strategy for the South East - the South East Plan - as that was at the time the most important feature of the Development Plan that was then applicable to the Public Inquiry. But in doing this, we emphasised that the South East Plan was shaped by principles that are set out in Policy Planning Statements which for the most part remain in force.

Although planning authorities in the South East are told that they 'should work from the apportionment set out in the "Proposed Changes" to the revision of Policy M3, published on 19 March 2010', they are also told that they 'can choose to use alternative figures for their planning purposes if they have new or different information and a robust evidence base'.

For Oxfordshire alone among all the counties of the South East, those "Proposed Changes" increased the county apportionment for Sand and Gravel from 1.82 mtpa to 2.1 mtpa. These figures were unanimously rejected by a Cabinet session of Oxfordshire County Council on 18 May 2010.

As the Partial Review of Policy M3 consultation process was in full swing when it was abruptly cancelled, there exists a mass of consultation responses that arose out of the apportionment and its March 2010 Sustainability Appraisal, and that are new relative to the "Proposed Changes". One of these is the consultation response from OUTRAGE, in which, for example, we demonstrate that these "Proposed Changes" were based on an inadequate understanding of flood risk and other environmental constraints that relate to Oxfordshire.

The last words spoken by Robert Hanson for OCC at the Public Inquiry confirmed, in answer to a direct question from the Inspector, that OCC's preferred sub-apportionment figure remains 1.58 mtpa or less.

It appears that the Government intends to devolve planning powers to local planning authorities. "Localism" and "cooperation" are emphasised in the introduction to the official 'questions and answers' advice on 'immediate issues that arise from the ministerial statement'. In para 4 there is a reference to 'new freedoms'.

So it would surely be wrong to interpret this ministerial statement as re-imposing from the top down a sub-apportionment that has been unanimously rejected by Oxfordshire County Council.