EIA changes will cost UK, says Pickles

11th December 2012

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The communities secretary has criticised proposals to update the EU Directive on environmental impact assessment (EIA), saying they will increase planning delays and costs

In a statement to parliament, Eric Pickles argued that EU EIA legislation had already resulted in extra costs for developers and local authorities and that changes proposed by the European Commission in October would make the situation worse.

“Some local planning authorities require detailed assessment of all environmental issues irrespective of whether EU directives actually require it; similarly, some developers do more than is actually necessary to avoid the possibility of more costly legal challenges,” he said.

“The proposals [to change the EIA Directive] could result in a significant increase in regulation, add additional costs and delay to the planning system, and undermine existing permitted development rights.”

While not specifying how the potential changes could impact the UK’s planning system, Pickles complained of “regulatory creep”. He claims that EU policymakers lacked competence on planning issues and that directives on air quality, habitats and energy efficiency, for example, impose “additional and expensive requirements” on developers.

Pickles also confirmed that the department for communities and local government would next year launch a consultation on the thresholds for EIA developments in a bid to “remove unnecessary provisions from our regulations, and to help provide greater clarity and certainty on what EU law does and does not require”.

The number of UK developments subject to the EIA regulations is unclear; however, government statistics confirm that more than 99.5% of planning applications progress without the need to submit an environmental statement.

Reacting to Pickle’s comments Josh Fothergill, IEMA’s policy lead on EIA, agreed that there was a need to avoid undue burden from measures aimed at improving practice in other member states with less sophisticated regimes, but said the revision would ensure that the UK’s system is fit for purpose.

“There are issues with UK EIA practice that need resolving, some of which arise from the EU Directive, but many more are derived from the UK’s implementation of EIA,” he said.

And, Fothergill argues that rather than increasing costs effective EIA can help the planning system save money.

“Delivered properly EIA can minimise delays, generate environmental improvement and save developers millions of pounds. The Environment Agency’s EIA staff, for example, delivered more than £15 million of savings to the tax payer in five years through effectively scoped EIA.

“This is why IEMA is working with its EIA Quality Mark partners, environmental professionals and developers to provide a rational and evidence based review of the EIA Directive proposals to ensure that Mr Pickles, and his European Council colleagues, don't throw the baby out with the bath water.”

IEMA has published a briefing note on the draft EIA Directive issued by the commission, explaining the proposed changes. These include linking EIA to other assessments required under EU legislation, such as the Habitats Directive; combining EIA screening and scoping into a single process; imposing a 12-week time limit on local planning authorities to deliver a final consent decision for EIA projects; and requiring that accredited competent experts are involved in all EIAs.


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