When size matters...thresholds for EIA screening

7th July 2015

Related Topics

Related tags

  • Built environment ,
  • Planning


Saleem Saeed

Environmental planners Adam Boyden, Alison Carroll and Jonathan Murphy at Nicholas Pearson Associates consider an example of where an EIA proved useful, despite not being originally required.

In 2014, Nicholas Pearson Associates contributed to a consultation held by IEMA on the government's proposal to amend the EIA screening thresholds for urban and residential development. The proposal by the Department for communities and local government (DCLG) aimed to deal with the perceived problem of the time and cost in dealing with both unnecessary screening reports and too many projects requiring EIA.

As a company, we were keen to take part as we have first-hand experience of EIA for a development that has been built and occupied, which would have fallen under the threshold originally proposed by government and therefore would not have undergone EIA.

Proposed EIA thresholds

The consultation, which ran from July to September 2014, sought views on proposals to raise some of the size thresholds for screening projects to determine whether there was a need for EIA. The proposals were:

  • The screening threshold for the housing development should be increased from the existing 0.5 hectare up to 5 hectares, including where there is up to 1 hectare of non-residential urban development;
  • The threshold for other urban development should be raised from the existing 0.5 hectare to 1 hectare;
  • The threshold for industrial estate development should be raised from the current 0.5 hectare to 5 hectares.

"Sensitive areas", including national parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty, sites of special scientific interest, scheduled monuments and world heritage sites were exempt from the proposed changes as all developments in these areas area required to be screened for EIA, regardless of size.

Responses to the consultation

The government consultation prompted 327 responses in relation to the proposed EIA thresholds . While many respondents agreed that the existing thresholds for development outside sensitive areas were too low, the consultation also highlighted the risk that raising thresholds would remove the requirement for EIA regarding development within small sites which could still result in significant environmental effects. This was of particular concern for developments near to sensitive sites, but not actually within them, and for high-rise buildings.

While the following case study might be exceptional, it does serve to highlight some of these concerns.

The case of Castle Mill

In October 2014, the University of Oxford submitted an environmental statement (ES) for its Castle Mill graduate accommodation, which comprises 312 graduate accommodation units in four and five storey buildings over 1.2 hectares, to Oxford City Council for public consultation. Unusually, the ES was retrospective as it assessed the environmental effects of a development that already had planning permission and was fully built.

The ES identified a number of significant environmental effects on the landscape and the historic environment and considered several new design measures in order to mitigate these effects. It was widely publicised by the university and Oxford City Council received many hundreds of responses. Its consideration of the ES is ongoing.

The case highlights the value to the local community, the local authority and applicants of properly identifying the likely significant effects on the environment of a development before it is built, and that tall buildings can give rise to significant environmental effects, even when they are outside a sensitive area and have a relatively small development footprint.

The outcome

The outcome of the DCLG's consultation was to introduce an additional threshold based on the number of homes in a development. The proposed new thresholds are:

  • Increasing the screening threshold for residential development from 0.5 hectares to 5 hectares or 150 or more homes, including where there is up to one hectare of non-residential urban development;
  • Raising the threshold for other urban development from 0.5 hectares to one hectare; and
  • Raising the threshold for industrial estate development from 0.5 hectares to 5 hectares.

The government is expected to draft regulations later in this year to implement the changes.

In the case of Castle Mill, while the outcome is still uncertain at the time of writing, it is likely that a traditional pre-consent EIA would have identified the environmental effects of development if EIA had been required before planning permission was granted.

The screening thresholds originally proposed by government would mean EIA would not be required for this scale of development in future. However, the amended proposal to still require EIA for developments over 150 homes means that this scale of development would be screened for EIA in future.


Subscribe to IEMA's newsletters to receive timely articles, expert opinions, event announcements, and much more, directly in your inbox.

Transform articles

IEMA and IFoA publish guide to climate-related financial disclosures

IEMA and the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries (IFoA) have today published up-to-date guidance to help companies and individuals understand climate-related financial information.

22nd February 2024

Read more

Global corporations such as Amazon and Google purchased a record 46 gigawatts (GW) of solar and wind energy last year, according to BloombergNEF (BNEF).

13th February 2024

Read more

All major housing developments in England will be required by law to deliver at least a 10% increase in biodiversity under new rules that came into force today.

12th February 2024

Read more

The number of UK environmental charities reporting on the racial diversity of their workforce grew by more than half last year, according to figures released yesterday.

6th February 2024

Read more

This year’s climate conference served up mention of food systems for the first time. David Burrows explores the significance of this

1st February 2024

Read more

The crisis engulfing nature poses a massive risk to the global economy. Huw Morris reports on how the finance sector is adopting new measures for disclosing business activities and channelling investment

1st February 2024

Read more

Fossil fuel companies may soon be forced to pay out billions for their role in the climate crisis. Trial lawyer Jeffrey B Simon tells Chris Seekings about his groundbreaking lawsuit in the US

1st February 2024

Read more

Decarbonising the global economy will require a financing shift of historic proportions. Vivienne Russell assesses the scale of the challenge, the barriers and the opportunities

1st February 2024

Read more

Media enquires

Looking for an expert to speak at an event or comment on an item in the news?

Find an expert

IEMA Cookie Notice

Clicking the ‘Accept all’ button means you are accepting analytics and third-party cookies. Our website uses necessary cookies which are required in order to make our website work. In addition to these, we use analytics and third-party cookies to optimise site functionality and give you the best possible experience. To control which cookies are set, click ‘Settings’. To learn more about cookies, how we use them on our website and how to change your cookie settings please view our cookie policy.

Manage cookie settings

Our use of cookies

You can learn more detailed information in our cookie policy.

Some cookies are essential, but non-essential cookies help us to improve the experience on our site by providing insights into how the site is being used. To maintain privacy management, this relies on cookie identifiers. Resetting or deleting your browser cookies will reset these preferences.

Essential cookies

These are cookies that are required for the operation of our website. They include, for example, cookies that enable you to log into secure areas of our website.

Analytics cookies

These cookies allow us to recognise and count the number of visitors to our website and to see how visitors move around our website when they are using it. This helps us to improve the way our website works.

Advertising cookies

These cookies allow us to tailor advertising to you based on your interests. If you do not accept these cookies, you will still see adverts, but these will be more generic.

Save and close