EIA, planning and permitting

8th July 2014

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  • Management ,
  • Environment agencies ,
  • Noise


Adrian Early

Robin Overton says an early understanding of the different requirements for planning and permitting applications will help make both processes easier.

For planning applications associated with projects that also require an application for an environmental permit for a Part A process under Schedule 1 part 2 of the EPR Regulations (issued by the Environment Agency) there is an overlap in the requirements and early awareness and thought is required when specifying the scope of studies to minimise costs and ensure their suitability.

The requirements for environmental permitting include issues such as air quality, noise, ground conditions, discharges to water and these issues must also be addressed at the planning stage albeit to different levels of detail and with a different focus. Other areas addressed at the planning stage, such as traffic, socioeconomic impacts and archaeology, are either not applicable or less applicable at the environmental permitting stage.

Often detailed air quality models, noise models and others have to be presented in support of an application for planning and an environmental permit. Ideally, applicants should prepare one report that is suitable for both purposes.

But there are many obstacles to this approach.

  1. The planning application is submitted to the local authority, and to the Environment Agency (EA) as a statutory consultee. But the recipients of the planning application in the EA are often not the specialists that will be involved in subsequent permitting discussions. It cannot be assumed that just because a planning application has been approved by the council that the EA are fully accepting of the proposals and that an environmental permit will be granted without further discussion. There are specific requirements for the environmental permitting process that are not addressed in the planning process – the justification and best available techniques (BAT) demonstrations, for example. Experience indicates that the EA’s permitting specialists do not fully assess the information submitted at the planning stage.
  2. Planning is often required before the permitting process starts. But the level of detail available at the start of the planning process if the project is at an early stage (as in projects using a front end engineering design (FEED) approach) may not be suitable and sufficient for an environmental permitting application. This should not stop the planning process but it is important to be aware of the future permitting requirements to minimise the potential for future conflicts. Experience indicates that there can often be significant uncertainty about the final design at the planning stage with the layout often not fixed, information on equipment from suppliers not available (including noise and air emissions) and vendors not selected. It is often necessary to attempt to define a worst-case envelope for the emissions at the planning stage to proceed with the planning application and its supporting assessments. The risks associated with this approach need to be considered. Design layouts often have to be amended as design details change and further information becomes available. If noise or air emissions increase, remodelling and extra controls may be required, such as enclosures or increased stack heights. These may conflict with approved planning drawings and result in applications for variations having to be submitted.
  3. Financial approval can be another headache. An increasing number of clients try to obtain planning consents and environmental permits prior to full project sanction (as a precondition of project sanction) meaning detailed design information which is required to prepare an application for an environmental permit is unavailable. There are dangers inherent in this approach since both the planning permission granted and the environmental permit issued depend on the information in the applications. Any amended designs: layout, equipment changes and so on – may need planning variations and/or variations to the environmental permit. Both of these can be costly, time-consuming and potentially cause delays.

In an ideal situation once the requirement for both planning and permitting has been determined early discussions should be held with the planning authorities and with the environment agency permitting officer to determine the timescales and requirements from both regulatory and project perspectives. This way the different requirements of both sides can be discussed along with the project constraints such as information availability and financial sanctions. Experience indicates that there can be significant variability in the requests for information from planning authorities so the sooner their local circumstances are understood the sooner the application process can be geared to addressing their requirements.

This article was written as a contribution to the EIA Quality Mark’s commitment to improving EIA practice.

Robin Overton is an associate director at RSK Environment

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