Introducing Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)

Surrey County Council only deal with applications for minerals or waste-related developments, and for developments that affect our own property, such as schools, libraries, social care facilities and the highways network.

The EIA Regulations

The Town & Country Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations 2017 (Statutory Instrument 2017 No. 571) (as amended) – the EIA Regulations – form part of the development management system in England. The EIA Regulations cover certain types of development which have the potential to give rise to significant effects on the environment. The EIA Regulations enable planning authorities to take account of the environmental implications of development in their decisions on planning applications.

EIA is mandatory for developments of the types listed in Schedule 1 of the EIA Regulations, examples of which include quarries of more than 25 hectares, and installations for the disposal of hazardous waste.

For developments of the types listed in Schedule 2 of the EIA Regulations the requirement for EIA will be determined by the planning authority on a case by case basis (screening), unless the developer volunteers to undertake an EIA.

Stages of the EIA Process

The EIA Regulations place a number of responsibilities on planning authorities, which relate to the different stages of the environmental impact assessment (EIA) process.

Stage 1: Screening to determine whether EIA is required

Screening is the process by which a planning authority decides whether a development of the types listed in Schedule 2 of the EIA Regulations needs to undergo EIA before an application for planning permission is made. There are a number of circumstances that can prompt a planning authority to prepare and adopt an EIA screening opinion.

  • Under regulation 6 of the EIA Regulations a developer can ask the planning authority to give an EIA screening opinion before any application for planning permission is made. The planning authority must respond to such requests within three weeks unless an extension is agreed. Once the screening opinion has been adopted it will be made available for public inspection at the place where the Planning Register is held (the relevant borough or district council) for a period of 2 years.
  • Under Regulation 8 of the EIA Regulations where a planning application has been made without an environmental statement and the planning authority has no record of having previously adopted a screening opinion for the proposal, the planning authority can adopt an EIA screening opinion. This will determine whether or not the scheme requires an EIA. This must be done within three weeks of the planning application being deemed valid (can be extended if the developer agrees). Once the screening opinion has been adopted it will be placed on the Planning Register (held by the relevant borough or district council) under the record for the submitted application.

Where the planning authority decides that EIA is required and the developer disagrees, they can seek a Secretary of State screening direction under Regulation 7.

There is also a third party right to challenge the planning authority's screening opinion by means of a request for a Secretary of State screening direction (see Regulation 5(6)). This is more likely to be exercised in cases where the planning authority has decided that EIA is not required.

Requests for a Secretary of State screening direction should be directed to the following addresses:

In writing to the: Planning Casework Unit, 5 St Philip's Place, Colmore Row, Birmingham B3 2PW

By e-mail to: pcu@communities.gov.uk

Stage 2: Scoping to determine what information should be covered by an EIA

Where a proposed scheme is determined to be 'EIA development', the developer can ask the planning authority for advice on the scope of the information to be gathered during the EIA and to be covered in the Environmental Statement (which reports on the findings of the EIA).

The planning authority has a period of 5 weeks within which to produce an EIA scoping opinion, which can be extended if the developer agrees. The planning authority is legally required to consult with the 'consultation bodies', which in practice will typically include the Environment Agency, Natural England, and Historic England, and with the district council or borough council for the area within which the scheme would be located. Once the scoping opinion has been adopted it will be made available for public inspection at the place where the Planning Register is held (the relevant borough or district council) for a period of 2 years.

Stage 3: Reviewing the adequacy of environmental statements

Where an environmental statement has been submitted with a planning application the planning authority can request additional information if it considers the environmental statement to be inadequate. The adequacy of environmental statements is determined by comparison with the content requirements of the EIA Regulations, as set out in Regulation 18 and Schedule 4, and with the advice given in any adopted scoping opinion that is relevant to the development in question.

For more information…

The Town and County Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations 2017 and amending and predecessor regulations can be found on the Legislation website.

If you have any questions relating to the guidance please contact us at mwcd@surreycc.gov.uk.