Consultation: The Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2017

January 13, 2017

In spite of the Brexit vote, until the UK actually leaves the EU, the UK remains under an obligation to implement EU Directives. On 12 March 2014, the European Parliament voted to adopt substantive amendments to the Environmental Impact Assessment (“EIA”) Directive 2011/92/EU. These amendments, made by EIA Directive 2014/52/EU, are required to be transposed into UK law by May 2017. To this end, the Department for Infrastructure has just published a consultation paper with responses required by 9 February 2017.

In the consultation document, the Department has identified what it considers to be the more significant amendments introduced by the 2014 Directive and include the following:

  • Administrative burdens will be reduced and processes streamlined through the introduction of joint and/or co-ordinated procedures when a development also requires assessment under the Habitats/Wild Birds Directive.
  • The environmental factors to be considered in the assessment have been refined and broadened to reflect emerging challenges that are important to the EU as a whole in areas such as resource efficiency, climate change, biodiversity and disaster prevention.
  • The screening procedure, determining whether an EIA is required, is strengthened through new information requirements and a revision of the selection criteria to be considered when making decisions. The Directive also clarifies that only those developments with significant environmental effects should be subject to an assessment.
  • Mitigation measures can be considered during the screening process, however, these will have to be specified and there is a requirement to retain such measures in the final development proposals (i.e. most likely by way of a Planning Condition or Planning Agreement). That extends the life of EIA beyond decision-making.
  • The information to be contained with the Environmental Statement has been revised and clarified to improve their quality and content. Environmental Statements are to be prepared by competent experts and planning authorities are to have access to sufficient expertise to examine and assess the statements. No definition of “competent expert” is provided. All in all, Environmental Statements are going to get bigger rather than smaller.
  • The decision maker will be required to consider whether the Environmental Statement is up to date at the point of decision, and has the power to require further information. This may trigger more requests for developers to supply further and updated information. There is also a requirement for the consent to contain a reasoned conclusion on the likely significant effects of the proposed development on the environment.
  • The grounds for planning permission decisions must be clear and considered and reasons for determinations and decisions must be provided and shared with the public. In addition, planning authorities need to prove their objectivity to avoid conflicts of interest.
  • Monitoring, proportionate to the nature, location and size of the development, will be required for developments which appear to have significant negative effects on the environment. Existing monitoring arrangements may be used to avoid duplication of monitoring and unnecessary costs.
  • Effective, proportionate and dissuasive penalties are to be introduced for breaches of the requirements of the Directive. There will also be an explicit duty on planning authorities to consider if the requirements and objectives of the EIA Directive have been met when considering enforcement action as set out in regulation 32 of the 2017 EIA Regulations.

Please click here if you wish to read more or respond to the Consultation.

Please note that the content of this article is for information purposes only and advice should be sought from a professional adviser. Please contact our Planning and Environmental Team at Cleaver Fulton Rankin for further advice or information.

Kate McCusker, Associate Solicitor, Planning and Environmental Team, Cleaver Fulton Rankin, Solicitors.