Deregulation cuts into environmental assessment

The Government has reneged on a promise made in 1992 to extend environmental assessment requirements to seven classes of development project. Regulations laid before Parliament in March will require assessments for only four of the project categories.1

The new regulations follow a consultation exercise in 1992, when the Department of the Environment (DoE) proposed to extend the scope of the environmental assessment regime established in 1988 in compliance with a 1985 EC Directive.

In December 1992, the DoE followed up by announcing that none of the 142 respondents to the consultation paper had raised any overall objections to the proposals, while only seven objections had been made to individual proposals. Regulations to implement the proposals in full were therefore promised for the "new year" (ENDS Report 216, pp 33-34 ).

Fifteen months later, however, the promised regulations implement the proposals only in part. The rules apply only in England and Wales, where they come into force on 8 April, although similar regulations are expected shortly in Scotland. Environmental assessment requirements have been extended to:

  • Wind turbines.

  • Motorway service areas.

  • Coast protection works.

  • Privately financed toll roads.

    The last category of projects will always be subject to assessment. In the other three cases, assessment will be required only where a specific project is judged likely by a planning authority to give rise to "significant" environmental effects. A DoE circular explaining the new regulations gives indicative criteria and thresholds to assist local authorities in deciding whether an assessment is required for specific projects in these categories by virtue of their scale or location.2However, the Government has gone back on its promise to introduce assessment requirements for another three classes of project. These are water treatment plants, golf courses and trout farms.

    Explaining the decision in a parliamentary answer, Planning Minister David Curry said that since the December 1992 announcement the Government had reviewed its earlier proposals and concluded that bringing these projects within the assessment regime "would be inconsistent with the aim of limiting unnecessary regulation."3A compliance cost assessment prepared by the DoE sheds no light on the decision. It estimates that no more than 20 additional projects requiring environmental assessment will come forward annually in England and Wales as a result of the regulations. On the assumption that the actual number is ten per year and that the average cost of an assessment is £25,000, the new rules are expected to add £250,000 per year to business costs. But while noting the widespread support for the 1992 proposals, the paper simply notes that "following review" the Government had decided to drop the three classes of project from the regulations.

    The regulations introduce a number of other amendments to the 1988 regulations, in part to align them more closely with the EC Directive. In addition, where a planning authority, an inquiry inspector or the Secretary of State require a developer to submit additional information beyond that provided in an environmental statement, the receipt of the extra information will have to be publicised in the normal way and copies circulated to all recipients of the environmental statement. Determination of a planning application or appeal will also be deferred for up to 21 days after the date on which notice of the receipt of the extra information is published in a local newspaper.

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