Communities department launches EIA planning consultation

7th August 2014

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Rory Jackson

The government plans to raise the environmental impact assessment (EIA) screening thresholds for industrial estates and urban development projects, including housing.

In a proposal the communities and local government department (Dclg) describes as removing “unnecessary bureaucracy” and claims will reduce the time it takes to get planning permission, the schedule 2 thresholds for EIA in England will rise significantly.

EIAs are required under European law for certain types of development that are likely to have a significant impact on the environment. Dclg says too many development proposals are subject to EIA that are unlikely to have significant environmental impacts, and proposes to raise the land size thresholds above which developers are required to carry out an EIA screening process, thereby reducing the overall number screenings.

The Dclg is proposing to raise the screening threshold for both an industrial estate development and a housing development in England from 0.5 hectare to 5 hectares. The department estimates that raising the thresholds will reduce the number of screening proposals for residential development in England, for example, from around 1,600 a year to about 300.

IEMA is actively involved in the EIA process and welcomes the government’s long-awaited planning consultation document, though it has concerns. Josh Fothergill, policy and engagement lead, said: “We have identified initial concerns over the implications for high-rise developments in urban areas, such as in east London, which often have a small physical footprint compared to their potential for significant environmental effects. In this regard, retaining a simple hectare based threshold may not be sufficient to generate the environmental protection expected under the EU EIA Directive.”

IEMA will be running a number of member workshops in September to gather opinion, and will meet with the Dclg to discuss the findings and submit a formal response.

Other proposals outlined in the Dclg planning consultation document include expanding permitted development rights, improving the use of planning conditions to enable development to start more quickly and introducing measures to improve the “nationally significant infrastructure” planning regime. The consultation also includes additional measures to make it easier for local communities to produce neighbourhood plans and the introduction of time limits for local planning authorities to take decisions on designating neighbourhood areas.

The consultation closes on 26 September 2014.

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