Environmental Impact Assessment – onerous or proportionate?
Are you cautious about Screening for an Environmental Impact Assesment due to its onerous perception? Are you leaving yourself open to Judicial Review if you fail to Screen? Well, in this blog NJL talks about proportionate EIA.
It is well known on super-major schemes Environmental Statements (the document in which the findings of an EIA are presented to decision-makers and the public) can be large documents of several volumes. The general consensus is that ES’s are long and getting longer, they can lack a focus on the key issues which tend to be obscured by the sheer volume of material and the resources required to deal with this volume are often spread thinly, especially at LPA level.
The solution? Effective scoping which provides sufficient detail to enable the Local Planning Authority (LPA) to make a properly informed decision on the necessary scope for an EIA.
European Union Directive
Let’s step back and remind ourselves of the purpose of undertaking an Environmental Impact Assessment. In summary EIA is there to:
- Provide adequate environmental information to decision makers; and
- Minimise the environmental damage caused by developments as an aid to sustainable development.
EIA should be considered in regard to the European Union Directive 2011/92/EU on the assessment of the effects on certain public and private projects on the environment. Article 2 of the Directive requires that:
‘Member States shall adopt all measures necessary to ensure that, before consent is given, projects likely to have significant effects on the environment by virtue, inter alia, of their nature, size or location are made subject to a requirement for development consent and an assessment with regard to their effects.’
Article 8 then requires that:
‘The results of consultations and information gathered pursuant to [the EIA procedure] must be taken into consideration in the development consent procedure.’
So we have a process that essentially requires sufficient information to be provided to decision makers, to enable them to make an informed decision on the likely environmental effects of a development on a number of receptors
It has become common practice now to undertake a detailed Scoping exercise prior to undertaking the EIA (once the LPA has decided a development does need an EIA). The Scoping report seeks to scope out issues that have either been shown not to pose a potentially Significant environmental effect, through either detailed supporting technical work already undertaken as part of the planning application, such as an Extended Phase 1 Habitat Survey, Transport Assessment or by not being applicable to the scheme. A formal Scoping opinion is then provided by the Local Planning Authority (as specified in Regulation 13 of the EIA regulations).
NJL have recently received a number of Scoping opinions from LPA’s that contained a requirement to undertake an EIA on just one or two issues – such as Air Quality, Traffic and Transport, Cultural Heritage or Flooding and Drainage.
Initially this may appear to be of limited value, but fundamentally Environmental Impact Assessment should be considered in relation to the potentially Significant environmental effects on key receptors and not purely on a ‘tick all the boxes’ exercise. So, essentially you end up producing a document that has successfully considered these effects and requirements from Schedule 4 of the EIA Regulations, such as alternatives and measures envisaged to prevent, reduce and where possible offset any significant adverse effects on the environment, while avoiding duplication and assessment of issues that would not be considered Significant.
The outcome is twofold; a proportionate EIA that robustly assesses the potential issues that may be subject to Significant effects and the mitigation measures to offset these effects, but at the same time reducing the size and cost of the EIA process.
If you have a development that you are not sure constitutes EIA development, please get in touch with NJL, EIA may not be a costly as you think!