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Environmental impact assessment

Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) is a procedure that must be followed for certain types of development before they are granted development consent.

The procedure requires the developer to compile an Environmental Statement (ES) describing the likely significant effects of the development on the environment and proposed mitigation measures.

When is an environmental impact assessment needed?

Information and advice on the need for an environmental impact assessment is available at the Communities & Local Government (external link) website.

Where there is a possibility that a proposed development will require an environmental impact assessment, developers are advised to consult with the relevant planning authority well in advance of a planning application.

Developers can decide for themselves that a given project falls within the scope of the regulations so that an environmental statement will be needed. But the regulations also provide a procedure which enables developers to apply to the planning authority for an opinion ('screening opinion') on whether EIA is needed in a particular case, as soon as a basic minimum of information can be provided about the proposal. This must include a plan on which the site of the proposed development is identified, and a brief description of its nature and purpose and of its possible effects on the environment. This can, of course, be supplemented with other information if the developer wishes.

Where such information can be provided, the developer may approach the planning authority at any time for an opinion on the need for EIA. This can be done well in advance of any formal planning application, although any approach to the planning authority before the planning application stage is entirely voluntary. Where such an approach is made, the planning authority must give its opinion within three weeks, unless the developer agrees to a longer period. The planning authority may request further information from the developer, but this in itself does not extend the three-week time limit, unless the developer agrees.

If the authority does not issue a screening opinion within the three week period, or any extended period, the developer is entitled to ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to make a screening direction on the grounds that the planning authority failed to issue an opinion within the statutory time limit.

What information should be included in an environmental statement?

Information and advice on the content of an environmental statement is available at the Communities & Local Government website (external link).

Developers should discuss with the planning authority and statutory consultees the scope of an environmental statement before its preparation is begun.

The regulations enable a developer, before making a planning application, to ask the planning authority for its formal opinion ('scoping opinion') on the information to be included in an environmental statement. The developer can therefore be clear as to what the authority considers are the aspects of the environment which would be affected. The request may be made at the same time as for the screening opinion, and must be accompanied by a plan on which the site of the proposed development is identified, and a brief description of its nature and purpose and of its possible effects on the environment. This can, of course, be supplemented with other information if the developer wishes.

The authority must consult certain bodies and the developer before adopting a scoping opinion, and must adopt the scoping opinion within five weeks of receiving the request, unless the developer agrees to a longer period. The planning authority may request further information from the developer, but this in itself does not extend the five-week time limit, unless the developer agrees.

If the authority does not issue a scoping opinion within the five week period, or any extended period, the developer is entitled to ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to make a scoping direction on the grounds that the planning authority failed to issue an opinion within the statutory time limit.

Even where a local planning authority has adopted a scoping opinion, the developer is responsible for the content of the statement which is finally submitted. Developers should bear in mind that planning authorities have powers to call for additional information when considering environmental statements and planning applications, and that they are likely to use those powers if they consider that aspects of a submitted environmental statement are inadequate.