Peter Duncan explores how environmental impact assessments (EIAs) can be better coordinated with the environmental permitting process
In March 2012, DEFRA published the results of the government’s red tape challenge review of environmental legislation, which sought the views of environment organisations and businesses. The responses collated in the report and Defra’s proposals to improve the implementation of UK legislation, indicate that the environmental permitting regime needs to be more streamlined and that the planning and permitting regimes should be better aligned for those organisations making parallel applications.
EIA is, of course, the procedure where a local planning authority assesses the potential environmental impact of certain new developments and changes to land use before they are allowed to proceed. Environmental permitting is the process by which facilities or individuals are granted permission to operate an activity which has legal restrictions placed upon it to ensure the protection of environmental quality and public health, such as those creating pollution.
Across the two activities there is significant potential for overlap, and the government’s new national planning policy framework, also published in March 2012, warns that a local planning authority should not focus on the control of processes or emissions themselves and where a planning decision has been made on a development, planning issues should not be revisited through the permitting regimes.
This approach to better coordinating EIA and environmental permitting is further emphasised in Defra’s 2011 core guidance on environmental permitting, which states that if a regulated facility also needs planning permission, it is recommended that the operator should make both applications in parallel whenever possible.
This guidance also encourages using existing data and drawing on, or attaching, other sources of information in applications, such as from EIAs, for example. Clearly, this approach will allow developers and consultants to develop EIAs and environmental permitting applications in such a way so as to avoid unnecessary duplication.
Examples of industries with potential projects requiring both an environmental permitting application and an EIA include: energy from waste activities, intensive farming, wastewater treatment and the manufacture of food and drink. The need for both environmental permitting and EIA in each of these cases is dependent on defined thresholds; closer alignment of these thresholds would allow for a greater level of synchronisation across the two regimes.
In terms of environmental focus, EIA and environmental permitting differ in scope, with the permitting regime’s focus on well-defined environmental issues primarily on the use raw materials, pollution and waste management. Meanwhile, EIA tends to have a broader perspective, considering, for example, land-use, biodiversity, and historic and cultural heritage.
While there are fundamental differences that justify the need for two distinct but complementary procedures, there are strong similarities between both regimes. Aspects of development examined by both EIA and permitting include:
• Alternative development options.
• Assessment of the potential effects on:
• Environmental monitoring
There is clearly considerable scope for the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Environment Agency to explore the extent that common information can be carried from the planning portal to the environmental permitting application form.
In conclusion, there is an obvious impetus to both streamline and build on the common links between EIA and environmental permitting to develop a more harmonious approach in the application process.
The Environmental Services Association, for example, a representative body of the UK's waste management industry, responded to Defra’s red tape challenge review stating: “We particularly welcome the proposals to streamline environmental permitting and increase its alignment with the planning regime.”
The environment department’s proposals, such as the development of the planning portal, will make it much easier for applicants to make simultaneous planning and permitting applications by allowing for common information to be shared across both regimes, and that can only be a good thing.
This article was written as a contribution to the EIA Quality Mark’s commitment to improving EIA practice.
Peter Duncan is a project technical lead at MWH UK. [email protected]