Concern raised over local authority EIA resources

9th February 2017

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  • Business & Industry ,
  • Built environment ,
  • Planning ,
  • Public sector ,
  • Local government


Abigail Leach

Practitioners fear local planning authorities will struggle to accomplish their new duties under the amended environmental impact assessment (EIA) regulations.

In a webinar hosted by IEMA on the government’s plans to transpose the revised EIA Directive in England, 89% of participants were wary of the changes.

IEMA policy lead Josh Fothergill, who chaired the webinar, has also hosted a series of workshops to tie in with the communities department (DCLG) consultation on the proposals, which closed at the end of January.

If the amendments go through, planners will have extra responsibilities, including: setting out the reasons behind decisions taken on issues considered in environmental statements (ES); assessing proposals to mitigate impacts on the environment; and judging whether the ES has been written by a ‘competent’ person.

Some 225 EIA practitioners took part in the webinar and 170 responded to IEMA’s poll. Of these 70% believe the proposals would increase the role of local authority planning officers in the EIA process; 64% believe that the local authorities do not have the expertise or the capacity to take on an expanded role; and 25% say they have the expertise, but not the capacity.

The consultation stated that most decision-makers either had staff with enough expertise to examine the environmental statement in their teams or could easily access expertise at bodies such as Natural England and the Environment Agency.

Tom Wells, director of environmental planning and assessment at commercial property adviser CBRE, said, although some local authorities employ EIA specialists, many use consultants to work on impact assessments. When a consultant is paid to review other consultants’ work, they may feel they have to produce enough feedback to justify the fees, he said.

‘There’s a danger that, if local authorities engage more consultants to review documents on their behalf, it could cause more back and forth between developers and planning authorities to resolve issues that aren’t really critical,’ Wells warned. As with all new regulations, the fear of legal challenge could drive more local authorities to consider using consultants, he added.

Andrew Whitaker, planning director at the Home Builders’ Federation, does not believe a lack of capacity in EIA should be an issue for local authorities. ‘If local authorities don’t have the resource in house, they’ll need to step up to the plate and retrain their staff,’ he said.

Fothergill described giving local planning authorities responsibility to judge the competence of a developers’ EIA team as an ‘undue retrograde burden’, and ‘goldplating’ of the revised EU directive. He said a better approach was being adopted by the Scottish government.

It had interpreted the directive differently, and planned to leave it to developers to ensure their impact assessments are delivered by qualified, experienced people.


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