On 17 October 2016, the NSW Department of Planning (Department) announced that it is reviewing the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process for State Significant Development (SSD). A discussion paper has been released which flags a number of changes to the EIA process for SSD applications. The purpose of the review is to establish a new set of guidelines for assessing large projects.

It is proposed that a new set of principles will be established which will address:

  • proportionality
  • ecologically sustainable development
  • hierarchy of response to impacts
  • effective consultation
  • cumulative assessment
  • integrity and confidence
  • consistent conditions/compliance, and
  • focus on environmental outcomes throughout the proposed project cycle.

The discussion paper indicates a strong focus on community involvement in accessing large projects at an early stage. It proposes to introduce guidelines which promote early community engagement by requiring:

  • pre-lodgment meetings to discuss community engagement during scoping
  • proponent led engagement during scoping
  • proponents and decision makers be required to inform community members of how their views have been taken into account and if they have not been taken into account, provide an explanation as to why
  • Department led engagement on key issues, and
  • EIA documentation to be publically available at all stages of the process.

It is also proposed that consultant reports will need to undergo peer review and be bound by a code of practice.

The discussion paper aims to introduce:

  • a consistent framework for scoping within the EIA process
  • clearer timeframes for each stage of the EIA process
  • clearer processes for monitoring, auditing and reporting of compliance against conditions of approval
  • a standard framework for conditioning projects
  • a process for addressing and communicating modifications to approved projects, and
  • a requirement for a consolidated project description within the EIA that can be linked to the condition on which approval is given.

The Department is asking for submissions on its discussion paper. Submissions are due by 27 November 2016. Click here to view the discussion paper.

Draft guidelines are expected to be released for consultation in 2017.