Login | Register
04/04/2017

News report: Adapting to changes in EIA regulations

Words: Martin Read

Replacement Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Regulations are set to come into force on 16th May 2017, introducing a number of changes to the screening, scoping, decision-making and enforcement of EIA developments. 

A few weeks back, The Planner hosted a webinar explaining the likely effect of these impending changes. You can still listen to that event in full. What follows are highlights from the information and advice presented by those who took part.

Screening

The devil in the new EIA regs lies in the detail, argued IEMA policy lead Josh Fothergill. They demand more information at screening stage, the extent of which would depend on how much developers are willing to commit to in terms of early survey and design work. Councils will certainly need to give more detailed explanations of their reasons for a screening decision.

Where a local planning authority intends to rely on proposed mitigation measures to screen out the need for an EIA, these will now need to be justified in a publicly available screening opinion. Both developer and local planning authority will need to keep track of these ‘mitigation screened’ non-EIA developments, as significant risks will arise if the subsequent development proposal does not include the features (or justifiable equivalents) identified as key to determining that no EIA was required. (Draft Regulations had not established a regulatory process to track this requirement. “It looks likely that it will be down to EIA practitioners and local planning authorities to manage that risk,” said Fothergill.)

 


Considerations

  • If an LPA decides that a development does not require an EIA as a result of mitigation, it will have to set out its reasons in a screening opinion as there are likely to be challenges around any failure to give proper reasons for that decision.
  • Ensuring an environmental statement is up to date at the time of the EIA decision will be more important to avoid potential legal challenges.
  • LPAs will need to ensure resources are in place for assessing the monitoring results submitted by applicants.
  • The regulations talk of ‘competent experts’ – but there is little clarity as to what ‘competent’ means.
  • Fresh training may be required and a demonstration of ongoing experience in EIA could become more important


Mitigation

Consideration of mitigation at screening stage would require careful thought, said Alison Carroll, associate environmental planner at Nicholas Pearson Associates. “It will need to be clearly defined – and there will need to be confidence in the ability for it to be delivered and achieve the stated mitigation.”

This will be best achieved by embedding mitigation into the design based on a good understanding of the site’s opportunities and constraints – “something that will need to take place early in the process if to be taken into account in screening”.

Alex Ground, partner in Russell-Cooke Solicitors, said developers would need to submit design features and mitigation at screening stage to avoid problems further into the process. The process of EIA is going to become more front-loaded and screening will need to be more comprehensive. This would mean both a time and financial cost to applicants as proposed post-permission mitigation measures are better assessed at the outset.

Applicants will be trying to use the introduction of the new ability to factor in mitigation before concluding whether or not there are likely significant effects as a way of making sure they get a negative screening opinion and don’t have to prepare an environmental statement.

All participants expressed concern that the target of three weeks to obtain a screening opinion would surely be difficult to achieve with so much information to consider, and few developers would appreciate further delays on screening opinions.

 


The Planner's EIA webinar

Participants

 

Josh Fothergill
Policy lead, Institute of Environmental Management & Assessment (IEMA)

Alison Carroll
Associate environmental planner, Nicholas Pearson Associates

Alex Ground
Partner, Russell-Cooke Solicitors

Themes explored

 

  • What is the role of an environmental impact assessment and how is it changing?
  • What will changes to the screening and scoping requirements mean to you?
  • How can the need for an EIA be avoided, and what are the benefits and risks of doing this?
  • How is mitigation to be viewed in the new process?
  • What do local authorities need to consider?
  • How do planning consultancies need to adapt?

Additional audio

 

  • London Borough of Tower Hamlets EIA officer Harriet Peacock gives her take on the new regulations.
  • Panel discussion: What might the impact of Brexit be?
  • How should human health be taken into consideration in EIA reports?
  • What happens when a local authority is also the proposer – what safeguards should be put in place?

Listen to the full hour-long webinar or shorter individual snippets


In summary

According to Josh Fothergill, the UK’s real challenges with the new EIA regime relate to an issue common to the planning system – delivering a proportionate assessment and application. 

“Over the next 12 months we have a window of opportunity – when there is more focus on EIA than there normally is – to try and do something collectively about this.”

Alison Carroll agreed that the EIA Regulations should focus on developments with the most significant effects. “There is, however a risk in screening and scoping that someone will challenge the decision. The real value to EIA is when it is viewed as an integral part of the design process, used to address environmental issues and stakeholder concerns in a coordinated and integrated way. Commitments made in the design and assessment stages do, however, need to be followed through and implemented on the ground.”

Alex Ground said she believes that once the UK has left the EU there will be an opportunity for more control over how EIA regulations evolve. “It’s incumbent on all those involved with using the new regs to be feed back to DCLG how they work in practice, so that when the opportunity comes for the UK to control how it wants the EIA regime to evolve, then all stakeholders have helped shape that.”

Tags