Streamlining EIAs for outline applications

8th February 2013

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Elin Fradgley, from Waterman Energy, Environment & Design, explains recent changes to the level of information required in outline planning applications

As part of its ongoing efforts to simplify the planning system the government has introduced changes to the level of information applicants are required to provide in outline planning applications (OPAs).

The Town and Country Planning (Development Management Procedure) Order 2010 requires applicants to identify the approximate location of buildings, routes and open spaces, together with the upper and lower limits for the height and length of each building.

However, an amendment passed last year, through the Town and Country Planning (Development Management Procedure) (England) (Amendment No.3) Order 2012 (DMPO 2012), and which applies to applications made after 31 January 2013, removed the requirement for these parameters in OPAs.

Practitioners will no doubt be familiar with landmark judgements which set the bar for environmental impact assessments (EIAs) of OPAs, including the Rochdale cases of Tew (R v Rochdale MBC ex parte Tew [1999 3PLR74]) and Milne (R v Rochdale MBC ex parte Milne [2001 81PCR27]).

In Milne, the judge emphasised that the EIA Directive and Regulations required the permission to be granted in the full knowledge of the likely significant effects on the environment.

These cases concluded that a “bare” outline application, with only illustrative details, is unlikely to meet the requirements of the EIA Regulations and that outline planning permission must be tied to environmental information in the environmental statement.

This helped define the level of information required for OPAs and the use of “parameters” to allow a proper assessment of the likely significant effects at the outline stage.

Changes ahead?

While DMPO 2012 removes the need for scale and layout information, there remains question as to whether the changes will have any real effect OPAs where EIA is involved. For example, care will still need to be taken to ensure the level of information is sufficient to allow the likely significant effects to be identified.

However, EIA practitioners can play a key role in defining the content of OPAs. Rather than applying a blanket approach to defining scale and layout parameters, the fundamental question that should be asked is: what level of information is necessary to robustly assess the likely significant effects at the outline stage? This should take into account the sensitivities of the site and its surroundings, as well as the nature of the development.

Since Barker in 2006 (R v London Borough of Bromley ex parte Barker [2006 UKHL 52]), consideration must be given to the need for EIA before the approval of subsequent applications (for example, in reserved matters). Now that the prescriptive information requirements for OPAs have been removed perhaps it follows that EIAs of OPAs will become more superficial than before, but with more intensive EIAs at subsequent stages in the development consent process to ensure compliance with legislation.

So, going forward, there is no statutory obligation to provide layout and scale parameters at the OPA stage. However, to minimise the risk of legal challenge developers and planning authorities still need to ensure that the level of information is sufficient to identify the likely significant effects.

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

Elin Fradgley is a technical director at Waterman Energy, Environment & Design

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