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East of England Plan

Volume 465: debated on Tuesday 23 October 2007

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government is today publishing “Further Proposed Changes to the East of England Plan” (also known as the “Draft Revision to the Regional Spatial Strategy for the East of England”) for eight weeks’ public consultation. The further proposed changes take account of the habitats directive assessment of the plan’s effects on sites protected under the European habitats directive. The report of the habitats directive carried out by planning consultants, RPS, is also being published for consultation.

The further proposed changes are additional to, and in a small number of cases modify, the Secretary of State’s “Proposed Changes to the East of England Plan”, which were published for consultation in December 2006.

An initial assessment of the plan under the habitats directive which was carried out by environmental consultans, ERM, was published with the Secretary of State’s proposed changes in December 2006. That piece of work was among the first assessments of regional spatial strategy against the directive, following the October 2005 decision by the European Court of Justice that development plans and regional spatial strategy in England need to be assessed against the requirements of the habitats directive. ERM considered the likely significant effects of the plan on such sites, and concluded that an appropriate assessment—the more detailed assessment stage under the directive—was not required.

Over 19,700 separate representations were submitted in response to the proposed changes, and a small number of these challenged the conclusions of the habitats directive assessment in relation to a number of European sites. Having considered the points made in relation this matter, including those put by the regional assembly for the East of England and Natural England, the Government Office for the East of England commissioned further work by RPS to assess the East of England plan against the habitats directive, culminating in an appropriate assessment of a number of the plan’s policies. RPS have also produced a short supplementary report on the implications of their work for the sustainability appraisal of the plan.

This further work has now been carried out and in the light of it, the Secretary of State is now proposing to make a small number of further changes to the plan. By consulting for a further eight weeks on those changes and on the habitats directive report, the Government aim to ensure that the final plan will be fully compliant with the directive.

The further changes relate to the protection of sites of European or international importance for wildlife, and are proposed principally to avoid giving rise to likely effects on such sites, or to mitigate any possible adverse effects. While some of the changes identify possible constraints to growth, notably at Thetford, or highlight infrastructure constraints that need to be addressed, notably in regard to sewage treatment capacity for Stevenage, Harlow and Welwyn, the assessment has not given rise to any fundamental change of policy. The broad aims of the strategy remain as before: to provide for 508,000 dwellings to 2021 and for the further increase in housing provision required through the Housing Green Paper to be delivered through a further partial review of the regional spatial strategy, covering the period to 2031.

I have today written to the East of England regional assembly with the further proposed changes. The public consultation period will end on 18 December 2007. Following consideration of responses to the consultation on the Secretary of State’s proposed changes and these further proposed changes, the Secretary of State is expected to publish the finalised East of England plan in early 2008.

Copies of the relevant documents, together with copies of the report of the European habitats directive appropriate assessment, are available in the Libraries of both Houses and have been provided for all of the region’s MPs, MEPs, and local authorities.