Environmental Impact Assessment is changing: will it affect your development?
Planning Policy Guidance
On the 6th March 2014 the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) formally launched its online Planning Practice Guidance, including updated guidance on EIA and SEA/SA. As a result a number of Government planning guidance documents were cancelled, as a result, a number of existing guidance documents relating to EIAs were cancelled.
The new guidance sets out eight procedures covering issues such as Legislation, Regulation and Procedures, and EIA stages and preparation.
In March, the European Parliament approved a number of changes to the EIA regulations, which are expected to become law in the UK in 2017.
The key aim of the amendments is to improve the quality of the EIA process as a whole. The main headlines that are emerging introduce the following new requirements:
- The role of environmental and sustainability professionals is significantly enhanced and there will be a requirement for competent experts to prepare EIA reports. Currently (theoretically) anyone can undertake an EIA and prepare the supporting Environmental Statement. The amendments will require a competent practitioner to lead this. What stipulates a competent expert has not yet been defined.
- The screening process will be strengthened with a consistent format. Comprehensive screening reports will have to be produced for any Annex II projects above Member States defined thresholds. An important element here, is the option to provide design/mitigation measures related to adverse effects and their ability to be considered at the screening stage.
- Screening decisions based on design and mitigation from the screening reports will have to be retained on the application as it goes forward or else it may make the screening decision invalid.
- Scoping remains a voluntary process but if a formal scoping opinion is requested then the EIA report has to be based on the scoping opinion. This could introduce informal scoping requests, to avoid being ‘tied' to the issues contained within a formal opinion.
- New environmental topics will need to be considered such as human health, land and biodiversity, and Alternatives will be expanded.
- Introduction of monitoring for significant adverse effects. How and who undertakes this has not yet been defined.
The implications of these changes are numerous, but a few key issues are highlighted here:
- Competent authorities will now have to have sufficient expertise in house to examine the EIA properly, reflecting any design/mitigation measures that were introduced early on and ensuring these are reflected in the application.
- Design/mitigation measures will be required to be carried directly into consents, probably through planning conditions. Highlighting the importance of assessing impacts correctly at an early stage.
- More information on the practical phase of developments will be required, such as predicted energy use, emissions etc. Clearly this could be an issue with Outline consents.
- Member States will be required to ensure actionable mitigation measures related to significant adverse effects are implemented by the developer. A potential issue here would be identifying ‘the developer', in the case of Outline applications the strategic land promoter would not be developing the site; they would sell the site onto a housebuilder, who could bring forward the Reserved Matters. Identifying who is responsible for ensuring mitigation measures are implemented will be an important element, especially as penalties for infringements of the EIA provisions will be applicable.
Clearly there are numerous issues to be explored further, once the guidance is digested and the amendments are published, but the amendments are encouraging in terms of ‘firming up' the role of EIA in development schemes. The potential future contribution to design and mitigation and the requirement for these to be carried directly into consents does give the process more ‘weight'.
NJL are part of IEMA's Quality Mark and this will guarantee that NJL are Competent Experts when it comes to the new EIA requirements. NJL's unique position in providing planning, sustainability and development services in house, ensures that we can deliver the best overall scheme, taking into account all aspects of the environmental impact assessment process.
Please contact us if you require advice on any aspect of the EIA process.
Image used courtesy of Alan Zomerfield at en.wikipedia.org