The New EIA Regulations

Well the Government cut it fine but the Town and Country Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations 2017 were finally laid before Parliament on 19 April 2017 and will come into force on 16 May 2017, along with equivalent regulations in relation to infrastructure planning, water resourceselectricity works, marine works, and land drainage improvement works.
The regulations give effect in England to the EU’s Directive 2014/52/EU on the assessment of the effects of certain public and private projects on the environment, which was required to be brought into force by member states by that magic 16 May 2017 date. 
My 8.10.16 blog post summarises the main implications of the Directive and expresses some doubt as to whether the Government would meet the deadline. I’m glad that the deadline has been achieved, as inconsistency between EU and domestic requirements as to environmental impact assessment would have made a difficult area, already full of legal trip hazards, even more precarious to navigate.  
The new regulations apply to all EIA development projects unless before 16 May 2016:
– an environmental statement has been submitted;

– a request for a screening opinion or direction has been submitted (in which case the screening is carried out under the 2011 regulations but any EIA will be under the new regime); or

– a request for a scoping opinion or direction has been submitted. 

The changes introduced by the new Regulations are not unduly onerous (and have been flagged by way of the 2014 amending directive for some time now) but there is still a small window for those scheme promoters who would prefer to work to the previous 2011 Regulations. I can see that even small changes in required methodologies may give rise to complications on multi-stage projects where it would be easier, for consistency and to avoid re-doing work, for further environmental statements to continue to address the 2011 rather than 2017 requirements. 
So what are the changes? Colleagues have prepared a black-lined version for internal Town purposes that shows all of the changes as between the 2011 and 2017 versions, which has been invaluable in working through the detail. There has been a lot of tweaking and necessary updating but the main substantive changes are as follows:
Reg 4(2) – there are now express references to assessment needing to include effects on human health, biodiversity, land and climate. 
Reg 4(4) – significant effects to be assessed include “the expected significant effects arising from the vulnerability of the proposed development to major accidents or disasters that are relevant to that development”. 
Reg 4(5) – “The relevant local planning authority or the Secretary of State must ensure that they have, or have access as necessary to, sufficient expertise to examine the environmental statement”. 
Reg 6 – additional information is now required in requests for screening opinions.
Reg 6(6) – LPA can agree to extend response to screening opinion request beyond the current three weeks period to up to 90 days and can extend the period further in exceptional circumstances if it gives reasons and the date when the delayed determination is now expected. 
Reg 7(5) – equivalent extended deadlines for the Secretary of State in relation to requests for screening directions. 
Reg 18(4)(a) – an environmental statement “must be based on the most recent scoping opinion or direction issued (so far as the proposed development remains materially the same as the proposed development that was subject to that opinion or direction.” (Currently there is no requirement for an environmental statement to take on board all of conclusions of the scoping opinion or direction).  
Reg 18(4)(c) – an environmental statement must “be prepared, taking into account the results of any relevant UK environmental assessment, which are reasonably available to the person preparing the environmental statement, with a view to avoiding duplication of assessment”. 
Reg 18(5) – “In order to ensure the completeness and quality of the environmental statement— 
* (a)  the developer must ensure that the environmental statement is prepared by competent experts; and

* (b)  the environmental statement must be accompanied by a statement from the developer outlining the relevant expertise or qualifications of such experts.”

Reg 19(6) – EIA application must not be determined until at least 30 days (was previously 14 days) after copies of the environmental statement were served on consultation bodies.

Reg 20(2)(f) – the LPA must make the environmental statement available online for at least that 30 day period. 
Reg 26 – the decision maker must reach a “reasoned conclusion on the significant effects of the proposed development on the environment”, taking into account their examination of the environmental information submitted and, where appropriate the decision maker’s “own supplementary examination”, “integrate that conclusion into the decision” and “if planning permission or supplementary consent is to be granted, consider whether it is appropriate to impose monitoring measures”. 
Reg 26(4) – “In cases where no statutory timescale is in place the decision of the relevant authority or the Secretary of State, as the case may be, must be taken within a reasonable period of time, taking into account the nature and complexity of the proposed development, from the date on which the relevant authority or the Secretary of State has been provided with the environmental information”.
Reg 27 – where there has to be both an EIA and a Habitats Regulations assessment, the two must be co-ordinated. 
Reg 29 – where planning permission is granted for EIA development, the decision must set out the reasoned conclusion of the decision maker on the significant effects of the development on the environment, any conditions which relate to the likely significant effects of the development on the environment, any measures envisaged to avoid, prevent, reduce and, if possible, offset likely significant adverse effects on the environment and any monitoring measures considered appropriate. 
Reg 30(1)(b) – the consultation bodies are to be informed of the decision in respect of any EIA application. 
Reg 30(1)(d)(iii) – information must be available for public inspection as to the results of consultations undertaken and information gathered.
Reg 35 – “planning authorities in the exercise of their enforcement functions, must have regard to the need to secure compliance with the requirements and objectives of the Directive.”
Reg 64 – objectivity and bias:
“(1) Where an authority or the Secretary of State has a duty under these Regulations, they must perform that duty in an objective manner and so as not to find themselves in a situation giving rise to a conflict of interest. 
(2) Where an authority, or the Secretary of State, is bringing forward a proposal for development and that authority or the Secretary of State, as appropriate, will also be responsible for determining its own proposal, the relevant authority or the Secretary of State must make appropriate administrative arrangements to ensure that there is a functional separation, when performing any duty under these Regulations, between the persons bringing forward a proposal for development and the persons responsible for determining that proposal.”

Schedule 2 – the threshold for industrial estate development projects is reduced from 5 hectares to 0.5 hectares. 
Schedule 3, para 3 – more detail as to the types and characteristics of potential impacts to be taken into account in screening Schedule 2 development. 
Schedule 4, para 1 – more detail as to the necessary description of the development in an environmental statement. 
Schedule 4, para 2 – the environmental statement must include a “description of the reasonable alternatives (for example in terms of development design, technology, location, size and scale) studied by the developer, which are relevant to the proposed project and its specific characteristics, and an indication of the main reasons for selecting the chosen option, including a comparison of the environmental effects” (in place of the more lax “outline of the main alternatives studied by the applicant or appellant and an indication of the main reasons for the choice made, taking into account the environmental effects”). 
Schedule 4, para 3 – it must also include a “description of the relevant aspects of the current state of the environment (baseline scenario) and an outline of the likely evolution thereof without implementation of the development as far as natural changes from the baseline scenario can be assessed with reasonable effort on the basis of the availability of environmental information and scientific knowledge.”
Schedule 4, para 10 – it must also include a “reference list detailing the sources used for the descriptions and assessments included in the environmental statement”. 
The explanatory memorandum published with the regulations states that there “are around 500 – 600 environmental statements submitted each year in England through the planning system, representing about 0.1% of all planning applications. There are between 10 – 20 applications for a development consent order under the nationally significant infrastructure planning regime subject to EIA each year”. 
Much of the work of a planning lawyer these days to seek to ensure that environmental impact assessment processes are carried out in a legally correct manner so as not to lead to the unnecessary risk of legal challenge. The new regulations will do nothing to reduce that risk – indeed, particular care will need to be taken in relation to these new requirements. Red pens at the ready…
Simon Ricketts 29.4.17
Personal views, et cetera

(with special thanks to Town colleagues, Spencer Tewis-Allen and Rebecca Craig). 

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