It appears that Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) could help us in our efforts to protect the local environment and to prevent or mitigate development that is inappropriate or poorly thought through. The rules are fairly difficult to understand if one has no planning experience. I have no such experience, or knowledge, so the note below is offered with the usual caveats. Any corrections or comments would be gratefully received.
A Local Planning Authority (LPA) cannot grant planning permission unless it has first taken information on the environment into consideration, and it must state in its decision that it has done so.
The rules by which an LPA must determine the need for an EIA, and its content if one is needed, are set out in The Town and Country Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations 2011 (SI 1824 of 2011), which came into force in August 2011.
Schedules 1 and 2 of the Regulations define what constitutes an "EIA development".
Schedule 1 lists large or potentially hazardous projects such as airports, power stations, nuclear facilities, chemical works, major roads and railways. If a proposed development falls under Schedule 1, there has to be an EIA.
Schedule 2 lists types of development for which an EIA may be required. In a "sensitive area" any development of a type listed in Column 1 of the Schedule has to be screened by the LPA to determine whether an EIA is needed. (The term "sensitive area" encompasses AONBs, SSSIs, scheduled monuments and certain other designated sites.) Elsewhere it only has to be screened if the threshold in Column 2 is met or exceeded. Some of the types most likely to concern us in the South Hams are:
Type (Column 1)
Threshold (Column 2)
1. Agriculture and aquaculture (a) Intensive livestock installations
The area of new floorspace exceeds 500 square metres.
3. Energy industry (a) Industrial installations for the production of electricity, steam and hot water
The area of the development exceeds 0.5 hectares.
3. Energy industry (i) Installations for the harnessing of wind power for energy production (wind farms).
(i) The development involves the installation of more than 2 turbines; or
(Notes: 1. it is presumed that solar arrays fall into 3(a).
2. following the Chancellor's 2012 Autumn Statement, the thresholds may be raised.)
If a development is deemed under Schedule 2 to require it, the LPA will screen it against the selection criteria in Schedule 3, which include:
1. The characteristics of the development:
(a) the size of the development;
(b) the cumulation with other development;
(c) the use of natural resources;
(d) the production of waste;
(e) pollution and nuisances;
(f) the risk of accidents, having regard in particular to substances or technologies used.
2. The environmental sensitivity of geographical areas likely to be affected:
(a) the existing land use;
(b) the relative abundance, quality and regenerative capacity of natural resources in the area;
(c) the absorption capacity of the natural environment, paying particular attention to the following areas-
(ii) coastal zones;
(iii) mountain and forest areas;
(iv) nature reserves and parks;
(v) areas designated by Member States pursuant to Council Directive 2009/147/EC on the conservation of wild birds(a) and Council Directive 92/43/EEC on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora;
(vi) areas in which the environmental quality standards laid down in EU legislation have already been exceeded;
(vii) densely populated areas;
(viii) landscapes of historical, cultural or archaeological significance.
3. The impact of the development:
(a) the extent of the impact (geographical area and size of the affected population);
(b) the transfrontier nature of the impact;
(c) the magnitude and complexity of the impact;
(d) the probability of the impact;
(e) the duration, frequency and reversibility of the impact.
Having screened the development against these criteria, the LPA will give its opinion. Whether the opinion is positive or negative, the LPA must publish it on the planning register, together with its reasons.
Anybody can ask the Secretary of State, in writing, to make an EIA screening direction on a particular planning application. In this case the development would have to fall into one of the types described in Schedule 1 or in Column 1 of Schedule 2, but it would not have to meet or exceed any of the thresholds in Column 2 of Schedule 2. This right enables the public to challenge a positive or negative screening opinion issued by an LPA, or to assert the need for screening where adequate environmental information has not been included with an application and the LPA is not requiring it.
If a screening opinion is that an EIA is required, it will normally be fulfilled by the applicant providing anenvironmental statement. He may ask the LPA for a scoping opinion, which would list the elements of environmental information to be included. The LPA might provide such an opinion of its own accord. Information to be included is listed in Schedule 4 of the EIA Regulations.