The EU’s 2014 amending directive on environmental impact assessment has to be transposed by member states into domestic law by 16 May 2017.
Given that Theresa May has announced that Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty will be invoked by the UK government by the end of March 2017, which would see us out of the EU by the end of March 2019, does the 16 May 2017 deadline matter?
The Scottish Government is currently consulting on transposition, with a consultation deadline of 31 October 2016. The Welsh Government is consulting with a consultation deadline of 11 November 2016.
I have seen no signs of any equivalent work underway for England or Northern Ireland, despite the lengthy lead-in period to the transposition process if it is to be done in accordance with the UK government’s own guidance .
This can only be deliberate but is going to lead to problems for developers and LPAs alike.
What does the amending Directive change?
The changes are significant. For instance:
– More information is to be provided with requests for screening opinions, requiring more analysis and work at an earlier stage
– Mitigation measures considered at the screening stage need to be specified and retained in the final development proposals
– Reasoning for screening opinions and directions are expressly required
– If a scoping opinion is obtained, the ES must comply with it
– The Environmental Statement becomes an ‘EIA Report’
– It will need to be prepared by ‘accredited and technically competent experts’
– Decision makers in reaching decisions will need to decide whether the environmental information is up to date or whether further updated information is required
– The decision maker will need to decide whether to impose monitoring obligations to cover the implementation and management of the project
– The minimum public consultation period in relation to the EIA report will be 30 days (whereas the UK minimum period is of course 21 days).
It is not of course unknown for a member state to be late in transposing a Directive, but there are real consequences. The state can be fined for its failure to transpose. But, of more specific relevance to developers and LPAs, the failure to transpose the Directive by the deadline can in some circumstances lead to grounds of challenge for a claimant when, for instance, seeking to challenge a planning permission on the basis that the LPA has not complied with the requirements of the Directive. The Directive applies where projects have not been screened or scoped – or the subject of an ES submitted – by 16 May 2017.
So, pre 16 May 2017, the 2011 Regulations will continue to apply (as long as you have screened, scoped or submitted) and post 16 May 2017 it would be prudent to comply with the substance of the amending Directive.
But what will happen once we have left the EU? Well of course we have been promised the ‘Great Reform Bill’ which seems designed to retain UK legislation that transposes EU legislation in some holding pen, from which laws will be taken out individually over time to be amended or repealed. Accordingly, even after March 2019 (or whenever our exit from the EU turns out to be) the 2011 EIA Regulations (as amended from time to time) will continue to apply until further notice.
In my view it would be a mistake to envisage any substantial repeal of environmental impact assessment legislation, as opposed to attempts no doubt at streamlining.
Accordingly, the stream of EIA case law will undoubtedly continue. Some 2016 highlights:
R (XY) v Maidstone Borough Council (Deputy High Court Judge Rhodri Price-Lewis QC) – held that negative screening opinion was lawful – on the facts no requirement to treat proposal for gypsy site as inevitably part of a larger development proposal given other similar proposals in the area.
R (Jedwell) v Denbighshire County Council (Hickinbottom J, 16 March 2016) – reasons for negative screening opinion not given within a reasonable period of time but permission not quashed.
R (Licensed Taxi Drivers Association) v Transport for London (Patterson J, 10 February 2016) – challenge to London’s east-west cycle superhighway failed – determination of adverse environmental effects was for the LPA.
The SEA Directive is fully transposed into law in England by the Environmental Assessment of Plans and Programmes Regulations 2004 – also destined for the Great Repeal Bill holding pen.
In the meantime the cases continue. According to a Landmark Chambers update we await the outcome of R (RTE Built Environment Limited) v Cornwall Council in relation to the St Ives Neighbourhood Plan, with its proposed second homes ban, following a hearing on 6 October 2016.
More selfishly, a number of us who have contributed chapters to the forthcoming book by Greg Jones QC and Eloise Scotford, The Strategic Environmental Directive: A Plan For Success? are hoping that it has a long and relevant shelf-life….
Simon Ricketts 8.10.16
Personal views, et cetera