Report recommends integration of EA and IPC

Changes in the law to reduce duplication and conflict between the requirements for environmental assessment under planning law and integrated pollution control (IPC) have been recommended by a joint working party of the UK Environmental Law Association (UKELA) and the Institute of Environmental Assessment (IEA).1

The report was prepared by a group chaired by David Brock of the law firm Herbert Smith. Its seven other members were four representatives of UKELA, two representatives from the IEA, and Nigel Haigh of the Institute for European Environmental Policy. An official from HM Inspectorate of Pollution (HMIP) acted as an adviser on the technical aspects of IPC.

The report identifies three main reasons for amending the present arrangements for environmental assessment of industrial processes:

  • Duplication and delay can occur where an environmental assessment must be conducted for an industrial development under planning law, and then a second assessment is required by HMIP for the purposes of IPC. Two annexes to the report show that there are extensive overlaps between the lists of processes subject to the two regimes.

    Difficulties often arise because planning authorities, responding to local environmental concerns, seek assurances about the releases from a project and their environmental impacts which neither the developer nor HMIP are able to give at the planning stage. Developers often prefer to wait for planning permission before proceeding to the detailed design stage and then to submitting an IPC application, and HMIP is generally unwilling to give a firm view about the acceptability of a project until it has seen the full application.

  • Conflicting requirements are sometimes imposed by planning authorities and HMIP. A simple example is where a planning authority seeks to have a short stack on visual grounds while HMIP wants a taller stack to facilitate effective dispersion of emissions. Local authorities also sometimes impose planning conditions to address concerns about pollution which, under Government policy, should be dealt with in IPC authorisations.

  • The environmental assessment regime introduced under British planning law to implement the 1985 EC Directive on environmental assessment may in fact not comply fully with the Directive. This is because there are developments which do not require planning permission - such as changes to a process which do not involve construction work, or which do not involve a material change of use - but which may give rise to "significant" environmental effects and hence should be subject to assessment under the terms of the Directive. At least some requirements of the Directive could, however, potentially be satisfied by an assessment under IPC in some of these cases.

    One way of reducing duplication and conflict between the two regimes, the working group recommends, would be to have an optional procedure under which the planning and IPC applications could be considered in tandem, with formal arrangements for synchronising the decisions of the two authorities. The system should be optional, it says, because it would "front-end load the cost and not all developers would wish to adopt that approach." Developers could also be allowed to submit a single environmental assessment document for the purposes of the two regimes.

    The report appears to have a good chance of influencing official thinking because of impending developments in EC policy. These are the forthcoming proposals to amend the 1985 Directive on environmental assessment and to introduce an EC system of integrated pollution prevention and control (ENDS Report 217, pp 36-38 ). The need to amend UK law to implement this legislation in due course should provide the opportunity to integrate the environmental assessment aspects of the planning and IPC regimes.

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