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East of England Regional Spatial Strategy

Volume 475: debated on Monday 12 May 2008

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities is today publishing the East of England plan (the revision to the East of England regional spatial strategy) together with the accompanying supporting statement, which includes a summary of the consultation responses and a sustainability statement. This is the first of a series of comprehensive reviews of regional spatial strategy to be completed under the provisions of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004. The final East of England plan reflects consideration of responses to the consultations on the Secretary of State’s proposed changes and further proposed changes which were made in the light of the recommendations of the independent panel who conducted an examination in public into the draft plan.

The East of England plan is crucial to putting in place the Government’s sustainable growth strategy within the East of England. It builds on the foundations of the draft East of England plan, which was prepared by the East of England regional assembly and the findings of the independent panel who conducted an examination in public.

The East of England plan replaces the regional planning guidance for East Anglia and relevant parts of the regional planning guidance for the South East within the regional spatial strategy for the East of England. Its main purpose is to provide a framework for local planning authorities to prepare their development plan documents, which must be in general conformity with it.

The strategy aims to guide development in the East of England to 2021 and to set in place a direction of travel for the longer term. It requires the provision of 508,000 dwellings within the region between 2001 and 2021.

The plan adopts the independent panel’s conclusion that a case for higher growth was made but that it must and can be reconciled with sustainability and environmental constraints. The plan supports a spatial strategy with development focused on the main urban areas, such as Cambridge, Peterborough and Stevenage, including the growth points at Norwich, Colchester, Ipswich and Thetford. It identifies Hemel Hempstead, Welwyn/Hatfield and Chelmsford as additional growth locations close to London.

Other aspects of the plan include the regional transport strategy, the waste strategy, policies for achieving efficiency savings in water and energy consumption, and policies for improving water resource and waste water infrastructure. The Plan reflects the increased urgency to reduce carbon emissions requiring local authorities to promote renewable and low carbon energy development and the regional assembly to develop regional targets for the carbon performance of new development.

In regard to the green belt, the plan provides that the review at Harlow extend to the north of the town and the review at Welwyn Hatfield may extend into St Albans. It adds additional guidance on the basis for assessing the area to be released and requires compensatory green belt extensions to the north of Harlow and west of Stevenage, which will increase the extent of green belt in the region. In regard to transport the plan identifies priority areas where further measures are needed to tackle congestion and support growth.

The plan was subject to assessment under the habitats regulations. The sustainability statement concludes that the plan is in accordance with the principles of sustainable development and that the additional growth and changes to distribution do not give rise to adverse environmental impacts.

Reflecting the levels of development confirmed through the plan, we are today confirming that five districts are be included in the growth areas with growth area funding confirmed. Chelmsford and St Edmundsbury are brought within the London Stansted Cambridge Peterborough growth area and Dacorum, St Albans, and Welwyn Hatfield are included in the growth area programme with further discussions with partners about which growth area they should be part of. We are also confirming King’s Lynn’s bid for growth point status.

The plan represents a step change in addressing housing needs but falls short of what will be required based on likely growth in households. The regional assembly is about to commence a further review of the RSS covering the period to 2031 for completion by 2011, which will be informed by Government guidance on the range of housing provision required. We are also asking the assembly, working with partners, to carry out a single issue review focussed on regeneration of Thurrock Lakeside, including the regional shopping centre.

The RSS review is a key milestone in putting in place sustainable higher growth and setting the strategic planning context for decision makers in the East of England. The crucial task now is to ensure it is implemented quickly and effectively. We look forward to working with the local authorities, local delivery vehicles and other key partners on its delivery.

Copies of the East of England plan, together with the sustainability report are available in the Libraries of both Houses and have been provided for all of the region’s MPs, MEPs and local authorities.