First proposals to extend environmental assessment rules

Proposals to extend statutory environmental assessment (EA) requirements to seven additional classes of project were issued for consultation by the Department of the Environment (DoE) on 30 June.1 The new rules would also require public consultations on information provided by developers after an environmental statement has been submitted.

The DoE's proposals would make use of a section inserted in the Planning and Compensation Act 1991 following pressure from conservation groups. They argued that Britain's existing regulations on EA of projects subject to planning control, introduced in 1988, are limited in that they cannot be extended to cover projects which are not specifically listed in the 1985 EC Directive on EA. The Government relented and included a clause in the Act which provides for other classes of project to be made subject to EA by means of regulations (ENDS Report 195, pp 23-4).

Six of the seven classes of project which the DoE has now proposed should be subject to EA would be "Schedule 2" projects. EA is required for these only when a planning authority believes they will give rise to "significant" environmental effects. For some Schedule 2 projects, official guidance will lay down "indicative criteria". Projects meeting these would be expected to give rise to "significant" effects, although the decision whether to require EA will remain with the planning authority.

The six classes of project concerned are:

  • Trout farms: A defective translation of the EC Directive resulted in "salmonid" farms being included in the English version as "salmon" farms. Salmonids include trout, and trout farms will now be subject to EA. No indicative criteria will be provided for these.

  • Water treatment plants: One of the reasons why conservation groups sought the regulation-making power inserted in the 1991 Act was that intrusive water treatment works were being built in a National Park. The indicative criterion proposed by the DoE are that the site of such a plant is in a National Park, Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) or heritage coast.

  • Wind generators: The subsidies offered to renewable energy via the "non-fossil fuel levy" over the past two years have sparked disputes over wind farm proposals in sensitive landscapes (ENDS Report 202, pp 10-13). The DoE has proposed that indicative criteria for wind generators should be their location in a National Park, AONB, SSSI or heritage coast or within two kilometres of them, or that the development comprises 11 or more turbines, or where its installed capacity is over 5MW. The proposal is unlikely to satisfy rural conservation groups, which want a presumption against wind farms in National Parks and AONBs (ENDS Report 203, p 21).

  • Motorway and other service areas.
  • Coast protection works.
  • Golf courses.
    The DoE has also proposed that privately financed toll roads should be "Schedule 1" projects, for which EA is mandatory. Only those authorised by the Secretary of State, but not those by local highway authorities, are currently in Schedule 1.

    Of the other amendments proposed by the DoE, the most significant would extend a rule requiring an environmental statement to be the subject of consultation with statutory consultees and the general public. The DoE has proposed that where additional information is provided by a developer - whether in response to a formal request by a planning authority, or given voluntarily when it could have been formally requested - this, too, should be the subject of public consultations. The only exception would be where the information was provided for the purpose of a public inquiry.

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