On 29 March 2017, the government served notice under article 50 of the Treaty on European Union. Triggering article 50 is the first official step to UK’s exit from the EU. Until the exit process has been completed, however, the UK is still a member of the EU and subject to EU law.
One such law is the EU’s Environmental Impact Assessment Directive (2014/52/EU) (the Directive). The Directive significantly updates the EU’s legislation on environmental impact assessments with a substantial refresh of the environmental impact assessment scheme (the EIA Scheme). This has been transposed into UK law through an amendment to the Town and Country Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations 2011. The new EIA Scheme came into force in the UK on 16 May.
In implementing the Directive, the government has used a very light touch. Instead of drafting extensive new legislation, the government has left the lion’s share of the Directive’s framework intact.
Property Developers and the EIA Scheme
Under the EIA Scheme, property developers (or their representatives) must submit an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) to local authorities for approval. The main objective of the EIA scheme is to protect the environment. The EIA scheme attempts to achieve that objective in three principal ways, by:
- ensuring that local authorities have an understanding of the environmental impact of a development;
- assisting the local authority in identifying actions needed to regulate that impact; and
- ensuring that the public is informed about, and given the opportunity to participate in, decision making in relation to the relevant development.
Impact on Human Health
One new criterion for EIAs, introduced by the new EIA Scheme, is that an EIA must include details of the effect of a proposed development on “population and human health”.
To some extent, this new criterion codifies the practice of voluntary Health Impact Assessments (HIAs) that are occasionally submitted by developers together with their planning applications. HIA’s usually cover obvious, practical measures such as air quality, access to open space and travel. Many commentators argue, however, that the scope of the new criterion may be significantly broader to specifically include mental health, wellbeing and fulfilment.
The Greater London Authority, for example, has argued that, the term “health” (in the context of HIAs) could include wellbeing and fulfilment. Similarly, the WHO’s definition of the term “health” includes complete “mental and social wellbeing”.
An Opportunity for Developers?
There is currently no guidance on what should be included in EIAs to comply with the new health criterion. As a result, it will be up to local authorities to develop the standard practice. These practices may differ between authorities. Consequently, it will be important for developers to discuss with their professional advisors the practices and priorities of the relevant local authority. There may be an opportunity here. EIAs, used strategically, might be tailored to the priorities of the local authority in order to reassure stakeholders that those priorities have been properly considered and addressed.
 Greater London Authority, Health Issues in Planning, Best Practice Guidance, 2007.
Disclaimer: While we do all that is possible in terms of ensuring its accuracy, this blog contains general information only. Nothing in these pages constitutes legal advice. You need to consult a suitably qualified lawyer from the firm on any specific legal problem or matter.
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The Environmental Impact Assessment Directive updates the EU’s legislation on environmental impact assessments with a substantial refresh of the EIA Scheme.