Smoke and Mirrors with Increased EIA Thresholds

 

You would be forgiven for missing the announcement that the Government has introduced changes to the EIA regulations to increase the threshold for medium sized housing developments requiring EIA screening.

The Town and Country Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) (Amendment) Regulations 2015 (the Regulations) were made on 11 March 2015 and came into force on 6 April 2015. The Regulations raise the thresholds upon which particular types of proposed development will be required to apply to a local planning authority or the Secretary of State for a screening decision on whether an EIA is needed.

The amendments provide that screening will be required in the following circumstances:

For dwelling house developments that:

  • exceed five hectares (previously half a hectare);
  • include more than 150 dwellings; or
  • include more than one hectare of urban development that is not a dwelling house development.

For urban development (not involving dwelling houses) where the area of development exceeds one hectare.

For industrial estate development where the area of development exceeds five hectares (previously half a hectare).

The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) consulted on the proposed increase in screening thresholds from July to September 2014 and published its response in early January 2015. The DCLG believes that the amendments will significantly decrease the number of screening decisions made by local planning authorities and will reduce costs and delays often experienced as a result of screening decisions for projects that are not likely to have significant environmental impacts.

But will the amendments really change anything? The 150 dwelling threshold for dwelling house developments is likely to capture more proposed residential development than before. And in reality if local planning authorities see developments of more 150 or more houses then they are likely to either suggest a screening opinion request or (more likely?) request an EIA straight away.

Local Planning Authorities need also to consider a development below any of the ‘new’ thresholds has the potential to give rise to likely significant environmental effects (irrespective of scale) and therefore requiring an EIA.

All changes (but nothing changes).