Following the Government’s consultation on Environmental Impact Assessment Thresholds in July 2014 and the subsequent responses received, the Government has now stated its intention to raise the environmental impact assessment screening thresholds in line with its proposals.

In order to implement these changes, the Government will look to amend the Town and Country (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations 2011. The proposals as put forward last year were:

  • The screening threshold for the development of dwelling houses should be increased from the 0.5 hectare threshold 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 0.5 hectare threshold to 1 hectare; and
  • The threshold for industrial estate development should be raised from the 0.5 hectare threshold to 5 hectares.

The purpose of the changes

The requirement for an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) derives from the European Directive 2011/92/EU, which applies a procedure for the assessment of environmental effects of projects which are likely to have a significant effect on the environment.

Through the Town and Country Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations 2011 the Government implemented the requirements of the European Directive by requiring that projects undergo an EIA where it is likely to have a significant effect on the environment due to its nature, size and location.

In seeking to amend the thresholds, the Government is seeking to address what it considers to be an over-implementation of the European Directive’s requirements and in doing so it hopes to save both developers and local planning authorities both time and money. In essence, the Government’s aim in introducing these changes is to reduce what it considers to be unnecessary bureaucracy.

What are the changes?

In its response to the technical consultation, the Government has decided to go ahead with its proposals as set out above. However, in addition, the Government has decided to implement a 150 unit threshold on residential developments. Therefore any residential development of either 150 units or more or that is over 5 hectares in scale is still likely to require an EIA to be conducted.

Whether or not a development is likely to require an EIA is dependent on the determination of the Local Planning Authority as whether or not the development is likely to have a “significant effect on the environment”. This is because those projects listed in Schedule 2 to the Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations 2011 (such as the three to which these changes are intended to apply to) should undergo a screening procedure to determine whether they are likely to have a “significant effect”.

If the Local Planning Authority decides to implement a screening procedure it should consider the selection criteria set out in Schedule 3 of the Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations 2011. Not all of these criteria will be relevant in every case (for example when examining a proposed development in Birmingham, there will be no need to take into consideration the effect on coastal zones as required in paragraph 2 of Schedule 3). The Local Planning Authority should also consider using the Indicative Thresholds and Criteria Checklist set out at paragraph 58 of the National Planning Practice Guidance. This sets out the thresholds as found in Schedule 2 of the Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations 2011 and sets them against an “Indicative Criteria and Threshold” for the Local Planning Authority to consider.

The key point is that it will not be an exact science for a Local Planning Authority to determine when an EIA is required, but by increasing the thresholds as set out above, it will be equipped with a tighter range of development sizes in which to determine whether an EIA is required.

When are the changes coming into force?

The Government has indicated that it will be looking to lay new regulations relating to EIA’s in early 2015 which will seek to amend the Town and Country Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations 2011 in order to reflect its proposals.

In addition, as the existing European Directive has been amended by a new Directive 2014/52/EU back in 2014, the Government will be seeking to implement the new requirements of the new Directive by 17 May 2015.