The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (“DLUHC”) has launched an ongoing technical consultation (closing 9th June) on its proposal to replace the existing EU derived Environmental Impact Assessment and Strategic Environmental Assessment regimes with a new system of Environmental Outcomes Reports (“EORs”). The call for a new system comes after claims of inefficiency, duplication, loss of focus and data issues experienced under the existing regimes.
EORs are a product of the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill which (subject to royal assent) will empower the Secretary of State to set high-level environmental outcomes as a tool for managing the effects of development on the natural environment. The outcomes will be set out in secondary legislation and are likely to reflect the elements of the government’s Environment Improvement Plan where environmental assessment can have the most impact.
DLUHC is testing an approach to EORS whereby applicants report on the performance of projects against all relevant outcomes on a proportionate basis so as to enable greater focus of resources on the more prevalent environmental issues as they relate to each project. Where impacts have already been adequately covered in a higher level assessment (for example in a local plan) then a corresponding project may not need to assess the effects of the project in full. Developers will also be required to provide a summary record of their decision-making on alternatives comprising a high-level summary of the key dates when decisions were taken and how the mitigation hierarchy was applied.
The detail of what projects will require assessment will also be consulted on as part of the development of secondary legislation, but is likely to see the introduction of Category 1 and Category 2 consents to replace the existing thresholds assessment. Category 1 consents will require an assessment in all circumstances and Category 2 consents will require an assessment if the criteria set out in regulations are met. Such criteria could include the scale of the development or the number of proposed dwellings. Applicants will be required to report on the steps undertaken at the design and development stage so that matters such as the mitigation hierarchy can be reviewed as a project evolves.