Information sharing for EIA and environmental permitting

17th August 2016


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  • Business & Industry ,
  • Built environment ,
  • Planning ,
  • Management

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IEMA

Lindsay Smith and Maeve Fryday at Ramboll Environ describe the benefits of sharing information between the planning and permitting processes.

New developments for industrial processes covered by the Industrial Emissions Directive will usually require both an environmental impact assessment (EIA) as part of the planning application and an environmental permit application.

These are different statutory processes, each requiring an application under the relevant regulations. However, where both require environmental assessment there are opportunities to share information between processes.

Sharing and delineating the information to be provided to support planning and permitting can be critical to effective engagement with key stakeholders, in particular those statutory bodies with a role to play in both processes.

The diagram below illustrates how the EIA forms a key interface between the planning and permitting processes.

There is often an overlap in information required for each application, such as assessments of air quality, noise and ground condition. Establishing a clear consenting strategy, covering requirements for both processes, is key.

From project inception, both applications should be considered together as this allows for early engagement with the planning authority and the permitting authority (generally the Environment Agency or Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa)).

Early engagement allows timely agreement on the details of the application to be put in front of the regulator as a consultee in the planning process. The EIA regulations require this information to be sufficient to identify significant effects on the environment. It should also detail the more comprehensive information needed for the permit application.

This clear understanding of what information is required for planning and permitting is essential to support the consultees in fulfilling their statutory duties under the regulations.

An element of expectation management is often required, particularly where full details of the project and equipment to be installed are unknown when the planning application is submitted. If this is the case, parameters for operations can be established to allow assessment of impacts and identification of potential for significant effects.

A further test which the permitting authority is required to consider as a statutory consultee in the EIA process is the potential ‘permitability’ of the proposals. This can be difficult, but essentially it means that there are no obvious reasons to refuse a permit, based on the information provided to support the planning application. The grant of planning permission does not confirm that a permit will be granted.

A logical approach to consenting strategy is to have one project manager who is the main client, and a stakeholder contact who will oversee all environmental elements of the project to avoid repeated work and ensure consistency of environmental information across both processes.

Planning and permitting will come together through the design process and technical specialists will be involved from an early stage with both applications. The EIA can regularly be based on a worst case scenario rather than detailed design, as this may not be decided at the time of submitting the planning application.

This approach can also be used for the permit application, for example, if emissions to air are below thresholds considered under a worst case basis then they will remain so at the detailed design stage.

In this example, models produced initially for the EIA can be updated and provided to decision makers within the permit application and any subsequent variations. This will ensure no conflicts arise in information provided to the planning authority and to the consultees (particularly those who are also a permitting authority).

This approach should therefore reduce the risk of additional environmental information being requested to support either the planning or permitting application, which means that the project can be delivered to tighter timescales and smaller budgets.

It is becoming increasingly common for investors to require both planning and permitting consent before financing is approved.

To summarise, environmental practitioners should consider the following points when sharing information between planning and permitting processes:

  • develop a consenting strategy ;
  • engage early with the planning and permitting authorities;
  • clearly define the project team;
  • technical specialists to EIA and permit applications should work in parallel; and
  • overall project management of the overlaps between the processes to ensure consistency and appropriate levels of information for each with no duplication of effort.

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