Environmental Impact Assessments- is anything going to change?

The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) has just confirmed that it will significantly raise thresholds below which new developments will not need to be screened to determine whether an environmental impact assessment (EIA) is required.

DCLG says that this will mean that thresholds for residential developments (including where there is up to one hectare of non-residential development), industrial estates and other urban development will be increased from 0.5 hectares to five hectares. However, government guidance is not clear as DCLG still state;

“Projects …. which do not exceed the relevant thresholds, ….may not be Schedule 2 development. Such projects do not usually require further screening or Environmental Impact Assessment.”

Therefore, in practice it will be down to the developer to prove that, even if a development does not meet the thresholds, it is not likely to give rise to significant environmental effects. So will things actually change? I think not, and in a risk adverse world who would not complete their own screening exercise to prevent any risk of Judicial Review ?

It’s interesting to note that, in response to concerns about the potentially significant environmental impacts of tower blocks in urban areas, DCLG said it would amend the threshold to refer to residential developments that do not exceed five hectares or include more than 150 units. DCLG explicitly said that “unnecessarily low thresholds” have “increased workloads” for developers and made the planning process longer and more expensive. But this is likely to give rise to more EIA requests as local authorities use the 150 unit threshold to indicate that an EIA is required. Wont this increase what the government consider a burden to developments?

Of course small-scale development can still have significant impacts, depending on their nature and location, and should be considered on a case-by-case basis. So why try to fix a problem that the industry and case law has already fixed ?

DCLG said it did not consider “that the higher thresholds will lead to projects likely to have significant effects avoiding assessment” although respondents to the consultation were worried that the cumulative impacts of multiple smaller developments would not be assessed under the new thresholds.

DCLG says it will lay the new regulations early this year, although really what will change for EIA ?