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Revoking Regional Strategies – where does that leave Renewable Energy?

On 6 July 2009 the Secretary of State announced the immediate revocation of Regional Strategies: see http://www.communities.gov.uk/documents/planningandbuilding/pdf/1631904.pdf.

Guidance issued to local planning authorities by the Secretary of State said “Regional Strategies have been revoked under s79(6) of the Local Democracy Economic Development and Construction Act 2009 and no longer form part of the development plan for the purposes of s38(6) of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004”.

S. 79(6) of the 2009 Act provides “If the Secretary of State thinks it necessary or expedient to do so the Secretary of State may at any time revoke all or any part of a regional strategy.”

On the face of it this is a widely drafted power which enables the Secretary of State to do what he has done and revoke all the Regional Strategies save for the London Plan. The guidance explains “In the longer term the legal basis for Regional Strategies will be abolished through the “Localism Bill””.

House-builders have reacted with dismay to the revocation and there are rumours of a legal challenge to the revocation.

There are though other impacts. The Coalition programme said that the Government “will seek to increase the target for energy from renewable sources”. However, in a recent paper given at the Landmark Chambers Climate Change and the Law seminar David Forsdick of Landmark Chambers wrote:

“A quick trawl through inspector and SOS decisions on onshore windfarm proposals, shows immediately how important to the current system and to recent consents have been:
a. the RSS [Regional Strategies] RE [Renewable Energy] target; and b. the RSS identification of areas of search/preferred areas for development/areas of least constraint.
With that RSS framework, Inspectors are able to cut through:
a.  questions of "need" by simple reference to regional targets (which are often well short of being met); and b. questions of location by reference to the development plan identification of areas of least constraint – with developments within such areas then having significant policy support (subject to site specific factors) and developments outside those areas, having to justify why they are nonetheless an acceptable location (and often failing)
But what is the approach if there is no RSS target or spatial direction? The RSS forces local authorities to adopt RE favourable policies and policies supportive of RE development. Reliance on the RSS approach is widely accepted to have been crucial to the increased pipeline of RE development we now see. In short it was recognised that relying on local authorities to support highly controversial RE developments was not delivering. How will delivery be secured without the RSS providing the necessary compulsion?”

The Secretary of State’s recent guidance to local planning authorities merely said:

“20. What about regional policies on Renewable and Low Carbon Energy? Through their local plans, authorities should contribute to the move to a low carbon economy, cut greenhouse gas emissions, help secure more renewable and low carbon energy to meet national targets, and to adapt to the impacts arising from climate change. In doing so, planning authorities may find it useful to draw on data that was collected by the Regional Local Authority Leaders’ Boards (which will be made available) and more recent work, including assessments of the potential for renewable and low carbon energy.”

Could it be argued that it is irrational to seek to seek to increase renewable energy while revoking the main mechanism for delivering that objective? Do you have any views?