Sustainability Appraisal – does it matter?

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Blog 1 – yes, because it is a legal requirment

Blog 2 (coming soon) – yes, because it is how the authorities make decisions about our future.

The legal framework

The planning inspector requires a new sustainability appraisal for long-term options for growth:  the joint section 1 Plan which was known as the North Essex Garden Communities plan.

This is important. When the plan is next back at examination, it will be assessed against the requirements of the Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive* (SEA Directive).

The inspector said, in paragraph 109 of his letter: “I consider that the lack of clarity I have identified in the descriptions of some of the alternatives to the chosen spatial strategy, and in the reasons for selecting them, is likely to breach the legal requirements for the SA report to provide an outline of reasons for selecting the alternatives dealt with,and for the public to be given an effective opportunity to express their opinion on the report before the plan is adopted.

The councils can duck and dive in the press about whether they continue work on the same three garden communities, but that is not what the inspector has asked for.   It’s good that Colchester’s ‘Option 4’ statement, below, shows that they have now accepted that:

“The Sustainability Appraisal will assess a larger number of sites [than last time] at a range of different sizes and also consider alternative options to deliver growth as set out in the Inspector’s letter of 8th June 2018.  The conclusions of that Appraisal will need to be reviewed before consultation on the evidence base and Sustainability Appraisal”

A compliant SEA

CAUSE’s understanding is that the preparation of a compliant SEA requires the following:

  • Reasonable alternatives to be presented and reasons given for selection of options,   Specifcally, this is important for plans with long time scales reaching into the very distant future.  Alternative scenarios for development must be presented;
  • Options must be identified, described and evaluated in a comparable way;
  • Alternatives must be realistic.
  • Public and designated authorities must give early and effective opportunities for people to express opinions and the final SEA must draw conclusions from the evidence.
  • This means that any SEA which appears to have pre-determined the end conclusion and fitted the evidence around the conclusion will be rejected.

The aim of the SEA Directive is to find ways to reduce or avoid significant adverse environmental effects.

The company, Land Use Consultants, appointed to carry out the work, must be briefed in an objective way and carry out the work with an open mind.

An objective SA, set against the strategic backdrop of viability and infrastructure needs, and employment in the area, would produce sensible results and a sound plan.


In Blog 2, we will look at how the alternatives might be best selected and assessed.