The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) recently published their response to the consultation on Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) thresholds, with new regulations likely to be set early in 2015.
The threshold will be raised for screening (where local authorities check development proposals to see if an EIA is required under EU rules) for both dwelling house and industrial estate development. This will be increased from the existing 0.5 hectare up to 5 hectares. The threshold for other urban development will be raised from the existing 0.5 hectare to 1 hectare.
This has been further qualified, following concerns about urban high density schemes, to include development which do not reach the 5ha threshold, but which exceed 150 units.
However, the developer will still need to prove that the scheme will not significantly affect the environment, even if the threshold has not been met to require a formal screening opinion. Even small developments can impact the environment, depending on their context and habitat type, so an Ecological Report is still important in the protection of local biodiversity. Generally required for validation of planning applications, we would still recommend that developers go through the process of conducting ecology surveys to ensure any future issues are forecast, dealt with and financial plans set up if necessary.
These new regulations are not likely to make a great deal of difference to the development process. They will not change the way that EIAs are conducted or the regulations for requirement of a full EIA – it’s simply a change to the relatively painless screening opinion stage that developers should be aware of.
It’s therefore likely that developers will continue to make a screening request for peace of mind. It’s a worthwhile exercise when many screening opinions specify that a full EIA is not required, and if an EIA is required, finding this out at the earliest opportunity enables further surveys and reports to be implemented in good time, avoiding time delay and financial implications further down the line.
The full report can be found here.