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Does your planning application need EIA? New thresholds to come into effect.

30 January 2015

The government has announced that it will raise the thresholds above which residential, urban development and industrial estate proposals must be screened to determine whether environmental impact assessment (EIA) is required

The background

What some may see as over-relaxation of planning control others see as a welcome sense check on unnecessary regulations and restrictions. The present Westminster administration has not been shy in bringing forward changes and seeking to reduce perceived unnecessary regulatory burden, particularly where that affects the house building industry.

Major overhaul has slowed ahead of the general election in May, but the government is still keen to push through tweaks to the system.

The present requirements for screening development proposals to consider whether an environmental statement is required have, since they came into force, provided fertile ground for judicial challenges to the grant of planning permission, generally based upon technical grounds.

Fear of such litigation has occasionally led to over-enthusiastic requirements for environmental statements where there really was no danger of significant harm to the environment as a result of the proposed development.

Following its announcement in the 2012 Autumn Statement the government proposed in its Technical Consultation on Planning to change the threshold that requires the automatic screening of some development proposals and reduce what it perceives as an unnecessary burden on local planning authorities and developers.

The government confirmed on 6 January 2015 that it will adopt the proposed changes subject to one addition.

Current provisions

At present, by virtue of the Town and Country Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations 2011, local planning authorities are prevented from granting planning permission for proposals classed as “EIA Development” unless the effects of the proposed development on the environment have been taken into account.

Certain “Schedule 1” development projects always require EIA. For other development proposals within “Schedule 2”, the authority must consider whether the site is located in a sensitive area (eg an area of outstanding natural beauty or National Park) or whether the proposal meets specified thresholds or criteria.

If so, the authority is required to “screen” the application to determine whether significant effects on the environment are likely to arise, and if so, require EIA to be undertaken.

At present, urban developments (including housing, retail and commercial developments) fall within Schedule 2 and require screening if the area of development exceeds 0.5 hectare.

Confirmed changes

The thresholds for the urban development projects will be changed as follows:

  • Dwelling houses – the threshold will be increased to 5 hectares, including sites where there is also up to 1 hectare of non-residential urban development. However, applications involving more than 150 dwellings will still require screening.
  • Other urban development – the threshold will be increased to 1 hectare.
  • Industrial estate development – the threshold will be increased to 5 hectares.

Unless the Secretary of State requires otherwise, once the new regulations are in place, there will no longer be a need to screen applications falling below the thresholds, unless the site is located in a sensitive area.

If an application is above the threshold, applications will need to be screened, but EIA should still only be required if significant environmental effects are likely to result.

It is likely that the new Regulations required to implement the changes will be in place before 17 May 2015, the date of the general election.

This article was written by Tim Johnson.

For more information please contact Tim on +44 (0)20 7427 6765 or tim.johnson@crsblaw.com.