Changes afoot for environmental impact assessments

Proposed changes to the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive received approval from the European Parliament in March 2014 (EIA Directive 2014), with the stipulation from the EU Commission that they should take effect in member states by 2017 at the latest. While criticised by some commentators as an example of a further regulatory ‘creep’ into domestic planning law from Europe, the proposals nonetheless include numerous changes with key consequences for any party to development projects.

Submission of an environmental statement and undertaking of an environmental impact assessment (EIA) is an important part of the grant of planning permission by any local planning authority (LPA) — the overall aim being to ensure adverse environmental effects of major projects are prevented, reduced or offset. While LPAs previously had a general responsibility to consider environmental implications, only since the late 1980s has there been a formal requirement for EIAs prior to the grant of permission for certain projects.

EIAs are now always required for developments of particular types and capacity, such as wastewater treatment plants, iron and steel works, railway lines and express roads, groundwater abstraction schemes or pipelines for the transport of gas, oil or chemicals. In all other instances, the need for an EIA depends on whether the development is ‘likely to have significant effects on the environment by virtue of factors such as its nature, size or location’.  Ultimately, there is an overriding obligation for an EIA where a development will have a significant impact, even if the likely effects will not necessarily be adverse…

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