The Environmental impact assessment application
We first got to formally hear about the Taylor Wimpey proposals when they submitted an application for screening opinion for environmental impact assessment (EIA) in June 2013. The application can be found on the Vale of Glamorgan Council online planning register here.
What is an EIA?
EIAs assess the possible impact both positive and negative that a proposed development may have on the environment and this information is submitted to the Local Planning Authority (LPA), in this case the Vale of Glamorgan,or the Welsh Government in the form of an Environmental Statement (ES) in order for it to be considered alongside a planning application.
If the need for an EIA only arises after the planning application has been submitted, consideration of the application will be suspended pending submission of an ES. An EIA is a substantial and costly undertaking which assess as many factors as possible, not just on the proposed development site but also on the wider environment. The exercise can take up to two years and results in a substantial document called an environmental statement (ES).
An EIA must be prepared for certain types of development to comply with European Union Directive 2011/92/EU also known as the EIA Directive.
What is Screening?
Determination by the LPA of whether a development needs an EIA is known as a ‘screening opinion’ and can be undertaken before or after a planning application is submitted. Developers who are in doubt about whether an EIA would be required can request a screening opinion from the LPA prior to submission of their planning application. The request should include a plan indicating the proposed location of the development, a brief description of the nature and purpose of the proposal and its possible environmental effects, giving a broad indication of their likely scale.
On receipt of the request, the LPA will consider whether the proposed development is a Schedule 1 or Schedule 2 development that is likely to have significant effects on the environment taking into account factors such as nature, size or location, and the selection criteria in Schedule 3 of the regulations. Schedule 3 identifies three broad criteria which should be considered:
- The characteristics of the development (size, use of natural resources, quantities of pollution and waste generated;
- The environmental sensitivity of the location; and
- The characteristics of the potential impact (magnitude and duration).
The LPA must adopt its screening opinion within three weeks of receiving a request.
Developers may appeal to the Welsh Ministers for a ‘screening direction’ where they disagree with a LPA’s decision to adopt a screening opinion that an EIA is required, or where an authority fails to adopt any opinion within the given time.
In the screening opinion application in June, Savills, the planning consultants acting for Taylor Wimpey, describe plans to develop a “new neighborhood” of 650 dwellings. In asking for a screening opinion, they effectively asked the Local Planning Authority (LPA), in this case the Vale of Glamorgan to consider allowing the application to proceed without requirement for an Environmental Impact Assessment. Unsurprisingly, given the scale of the development, the council determined that EIA would be required. This application was the first public demonstration by the developers of intention to develop and as such provided the local community with a good idea of their intentions. For Taylor Wimpey too, it was an opportunity to gauge responses from the local authority and local communities.
At the time of writing, we have yet to see any formal planning application for development of this site however, we would expect that an EIA would be required for even a reduced size development. If it is determined an EIA will be required then the developers would need a lengthy period to complete this and produce an ES.
Once the ES is submitted LPA has 16 weeks from the date of receipt of the ES to determine the planning application, instead of the normal 8 weeks from the receipt of the planning application. The LPA must seek the views of consultation bodies, including the Countryside Council for Wales, the Environment Agency Wales and the Welsh Ministers. The LPA or the Welsh Ministers must take account of the ES, together with any other information, comments and representations made on it, in deciding whether or not to give consent for the development. Where an ES reveals that a development would have an adverse impact on the environment it does not automatically follow that planning permission will be refused. If permission is granted, conditions may be attached that include mitigation measures that can be based on the ES.
The LPA must inform the public and the Welsh Ministers of the outcome of its decision-making and give the main reasons why the decision was made. If the decision has not been made after 16 weeks, the applicant may appeal to the Welsh Ministers against non-determination.
The National Assembly for Wales Quick Guide from where these notes were derived can be found here.
SI 1999/293, Town and Country Planning Environmental Impact Assessment (England and Wales) Regulations 1999
Welsh Office Circular, Circular 11/99, Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), 1999