Higher EIA screening thresholds confirmed

6th January 2015

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David Galloway

Developers will no longer have to produce environmental impact assessments (EIAs) for sites smaller than five hectares or under 150 homes, the government confirmed today.

The communities department (Dclg) believes that developments below a certain size are unlikely to result in “significant” environmental impacts and should therefore not need to go through the screening process whereby local planning authorities decide whether the project needs to undergo EIA.

A consultation last year proposed increasing screening thresholds from 0.5 hectares to 5ha for both housing projects and the development of industrial estates, while the threshold for other urban development would rise from 0.5ha to 1ha.

The changes would reduce unnecessary bureaucracy for developers and local councils, the department said.

More than two-thirds (69%) of responses to the consultation agreed that the existing thresholds for urban development and industrial estate development are unnecessarily low, Dclg reports. However, many suggested using the number of homes rather than land area as the threshold for housing projects so that the impacts of projects in high-density areas, such as tower blocks, were properly taken into account.

The Dclg’s response states: “The proposed threshold for residential dwellings has been modified in light of consultation responses to take account of potentially significant effects of high housing density and particularly tower blocks in some urban areas.”

The changes do not apply to projects proposed in environmentally sensitive areas as they will still have to be screened irrespective of size, the Dclg said.

The secretary of state will retain the power to instruct a developer to go through the screening process, including in response to a third party request. The Dclg acknowledges that increasing the threshold may lead to an increase in the number of requests for screening directions to the secretary of state, at least initially.

Josh Fothergill, policy and practice lead at IEMA said: "We are pleased to see that the Dclg has moved beyond purely land area (5ha) thresholds for housing developments; by adding a unit-based threshold of 150 housing units.

"This addition was recommended by IEMA members and ensures that high-rise residential development, which often has a small foot-print, will be retained within the English EIA screening regime."

Angus Evers, partner and head of environment group at law firm King and Wood Mallesons SJ Berwin said that developers still may choose to ask a local authority to screen their application for EIA in order to prevent future legal challenges.

The government will lay regulations to bring the changes into effect in early 2015.

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