‘Voluntary’ NPPF avoids strategic assessment

A recent challenge to the validity of the government’s revised National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) found that even important plans do not need to undergo a strategic environmental assessment (SEA) if they are not specifically required in legislation. But the case also highlighted concerns about whether this strict interpretation upholds the spirit of the SEA Directive.

In Friends of the Earth Limited v Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government ([2019] EWHC 518 (Admin), 6 March 2019) the High Court heard a challenge to the government’s decision to publish the revised NPPF without an SEA.

The SEA Directive applies to a wide range of public plans and programmes. Friends of the Earth (FoE) argued that the NPPF, as  the overarching planning policy blueprint for England, fell within the directive’s scope and should have been assessed for its environmental impacts. As part of this process the secretary of state would have to prepare a report on the plan’s likely significant environmental effects, identify alternatives and consult widely on the report and on the draft plan itself.

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