January 2015
Changes to the EIA Screening Thresholds

The House of Commons published its report on the ‘Planning Reform Proposals’ on 6th January 2015. Of particular note within this report are the proposals to amend the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) screening thresholds in England, which set the levels at which developers should consult a Local Planning Authority on the need for a full EIA.

In July 2014, the Government’s Technical Consultation on Planning proposed changes to the screening thresholds with a view to reducing the number of screening opinions requested of Local Planning Authorities and the number of EIAs undertaken unnecessarily for projects without the potential to cause significant environmental effects.

The changes confirmed in the announcement relate to Industrial Estate and Urban Development Projects, as defined in Schedule 2, Section 10 (a) and (b) respectively. 

For industrial development, the screening threshold will be increased from 0.5 to 5 hectares. The Government has concluded that very few industrial estate developments are smaller than 0.5 hectares, meaning that screening was previously required for almost all applications of this type.

For urban development projects, which include residential, retail and leisure centre and stadiums, the current screening threshold stands at 0.5 hectares. The Government proposes to raise the screening threshold for residential development to apply to sites of greater than 5 hectares or developments of more than 150 units, including where there is up to one hectare of non-residential urban development.

The one caveat to the amendments is that these new thresholds apply where a site is not sensitive to the effects of development. Sites in sensitive locations should still be screened even if they fall below the new thresholds. What constitutes a sensitive site is not explicitly set out and this could represent a point of debate where developments are contentious. Bearing in mind the litigious nature of EIA, it will still be important to agree whether a site is classified as sensitive with an LPA to confirm whether a formal screening opinion will be required. Ultimately, regardless of the screening thresholds, the need for EIA will still be determined on the basis of whether there is the potential for significant environmental effects to arise.

The new thresholds will be formally introduced through an amendment to the EIA Regulations in early 2015.

Click here to view the Planning Reform Proposals.

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Chris Peacock
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