Josh Fothergill, IEMA's policy lead on impact assessment, discusses chancellor's failure to meet his deadlines on updating EIA guidance
In his 2012 autumn statement the chancellor said: “The government will consult on updated guidance on conducting environmental impact assessments (EIAs) by budget 2013, and will consult on raising the screening thresholds set out in the Town and Country Planning (EIA) Regulations 2011 later in 2013.”
So how are his plans progressing? Well, the communities and local government department (Dclg) failed to launch a consultation on updated EIA guidance by the budget.
This is not to say the plans are to be shelved. In fact, replacing the existing guidance was also identified as a priority by the 2012 Taylor review of planning guidance. However, these further delays will not surprise practitioners, who have already seen seven years pass since the original consultation on replacing the guidance.
On the second action, the ruling of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) in the Salzburg Airport case may temper the government’s ambition to raise the EIA screening thresholds in England.
The judgment ruled that legislation in Austria, which established an arbitrary quantitative threshold for determining EIA requirements when expanding an airport, failed to comply with the EIA Directive. The ruling has wider implications for member states.
The CJEU also stated that where a member state establishes thresholds incompatible with article 2(1) – requiring any project with likely significant effects to undergo an EIA – local planning authorities should ignore the threshold and apply case-by-case screening, which would generate a significant administrative burden.
The ruling doesn’t specify what an incompatible threshold is, but implies that arbitrary quantitative thresholds, like those in Schedule 2 of the UK Regulations, may not comply with the screening criteria in annex 3 of the Directive.