Environmental Impact Assessment – Consultation On Assessment Thresholds
The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) has just released its response to the technical consultation on environmental impact assessment thresholds.
In this guide, we'll recap some of the most important points from the document and offer our advice on how this could affect your development plans.
The technical consultation on planning, of which Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) thresholds were a part of, ran from 31st July until 26th September 2014. The consultation aimed to continue the Government’s approach to streamlining the planning system, which started with the revocation of the Regional Strategies, introduction of the Localism Act (2011) and publication of the National Planning Policy Framework (2012).
The specific aim in regard to EIA was to reduce the number of projects that are not likely to give rise to significant environmental effects that are screened unnecessarily.
The proposals being consulted on were:
- The screening threshold for the development of dwelling houses should be increased from the existing 0.5 hectares up to 5 hectares, including where there is up to 1 hectare of non-residential urban development;
- The threshold for other urban development should be raised from the existing 0.5 hectare to 1 hectare; and
- The threshold for industrial estate development should be raised from the current 0.5 hectare to 5 hectares.
The result of the consultation can be read here.
The Government’s response to the consultation included the following key points:
- There was a significant support for change, particularly from local planning authorities;
- Respondents concerns that raising the thresholds could result in some projects which are likely to have significant environmental effects falling below the new thresholds and avoiding an assessment had been noted.
- In light of above, the Government believes that when consideration is given to the criteria set out in Annex III of the directive, it is not considered that the higher thresholds will lead to projects likely to have significant effects avoiding assessment.
- The Government accepts that even small scale developments can have impacts, but the directive relates to development which is likely to have significant impacts on the environment. Outside of the environmentally sensitive areas which are defined in the regulations, it is not considered that residential dwellings, other urban development or industrial estate development which are below the proposed thresholds are likely to give rise to significant effects on the environment in terms of the directive.
- The proposed threshold for residential dwellings has been modified in light of consultation responses to take account of potentially significant effects of high housing density and particularly tower blocks in some urban areas.
- All proposals which are located in, or partly in, sensitive areas, have to be screened irrespective of their size. This does not change from existing requirements. Development below the thresholds are not likely therefore to have significant environmental effects.
- There were also concerns about possible cumulative effects of multiple projects coming forward at the same time, but Government guidance was referenced:
“In relation to urban development, environmental impact assessment is unlikely to be required for the redevelopment of land unless the new development is on a significantly greater scale than the previous use, or the types of impact are of a markedly different nature, or there is a high level of contamination. The indicative thresholds for sites which have not previously been intensively developed are:
- the site area of the scheme is more than five hectares; or
- it would provide a total of more than 10,000 square metres of new commercial floor space; or
- the development would have significant urbanising effects in a previously non urbanised area (e.g. a new development of more than 1,000 dwellings)".
- There was also recognition that there is still a “safety net” provided in the Regulations that the Secretary of State can, including in response to a third party request, issue a screening direction for any project irrespective of whether it falls above or below the screening threshold. Therefore, although development below the thresholds will not have significant effects, this does not mean that such projects can never be screened.
The outcome of the consultation resulted in the Government recommending a change to the thresholds, which are to be incorporated into regulation early in 2015, which will result in the Town and Country Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations 2011 being amended.
The regulations will incorporate the following threshold amendments:
- Development of dwelling houses which does not exceed 5 hectares or does not include more than 150 units. This will also include an allowance for up to 1 hectare of non-residential urban development.
- Other urban development - 1 hectare.
- Industrial estate development from - 5 hectares.
Although the changes will result in a lower number of projects being screened for EIA, individual schemes will still require a competent person to assess the proposals and determine whether screening is required.
If you would like further clarification on the threshold changes or would like to discuss a project that you believe may require an Environmental Impact Assessment, then don't hesitate to get in touch today.