Consultation on Environmental Outcome Reports
The Government is consulting on a proposed new system of environmental assessment. It is expected that this will replace Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) and Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) Directives with a new system of Environmental Outcomes Reports (EORs).
In leaving the European Union, the Government sees an opportunity to reduce the administrative burden and delays and costs associated with undertaking an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and preparing an Environmental Statement. The Government hopes that the new system will “be more effective as a tool for managing the effects of development on the natural environmental” and that it will “simplify and streamline the assessment process.”
The change to the new Environmental Outcomes Reports is set in The Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill (LURB) which is currently working its way through parliament. The LURB gives the government powers to draft new EOR regulations that require EORs to be prepared to support applications for development. The reports would focus on clearly defined outcomes relating to environmental protection in the UK.
Outcomes Based Approach
The intention is to provide a clearer, outcomes-based system which reflects a streamlined, more straightforward system that is less susceptible to challenge. EORs are intended to be simpler and shorter and outcomes will be assessed against nationally set "indicators" which will be largely data sets based on technical work and analysis, such as physical surveys and population counts. In theory this will help to speed up the determination of planning applications and the ability for development.
The consultation confirms that outcomes should:
- drive the achievement of statutory environmental targets and the Environment Improvement Plan;
- be measurable using indicators at the correct scale;
- be designed using the knowledge and experience of sector groups and environmental experts
- have an organisation responsible for monitoring overall progress of specific outcomes i.e., a responsible ‘owner’;
- be reviewed on a regular basis to ensure they remain relevant; and
- do not duplicate matters more effectively addressed through policy.
The consultation also confirms that outcomes will be developed and tested in the coming months. They will, will likely relate to the following matters (not exhaustive):
- air quality
- landscape and seascape
- geodiversity, soil and sediment
- noise and vibration
- cultural heritage and archaeology
- managing climate change
Whether outcomes are met or not will be determined by reference to defined “indicators”. As with outcomes, indicators will need to comply with a set of principles. Indicators must be:
- clearly and directly relevant to one or more priority outcomes
- drawn from existing data sets, wherever possible
- measurable at the correct scale (i.e. strategic or project level)
- evidence based
- owned and managed
- supported by a clear methodology and guidance − including how they will be updated as new data emerges
In addition to simplifying the outputs, the consultation also seeks views on reforming the screening process so that it is clearer when an assessment is required, including whether and how, we could better use proximity, or a defined impact pathway, to a sensitive receptor, rather than simple size thresholds. The consultation suggests that the regulations for Category 2 could “narrow” the scope for discussion by being more prescriptive on how borderline cases will be considered.
Views are also being sought on whether the scoping stage should be removed to allow proportionate reporting on all outcomes; or whether this will simply result in more documentation. One of the benefits of the current system is that the scoping stage provides a degree of certainty around the content of the report if the scoping opinion is complied with. Removing this stage could lead to ambiguity and defeat the intention to simplify and streamline the system.
Going Further for the Environment
The intention for the reforms is to address a number of central issues which include inefficiency, duplication, risk aversion, loss of focus and issues with data. Of particular note, the Government suggests that the current regulations are “inherently skewed towards delivering social and economic outcomes.”
The consultation indicates that reforming the environmental assessment process provides an opportunity to go further for the environment, and it will use EORs to amplify Government initiatives such as Biodiversity Net Gain and Local Nature Recovery Strategies.
The EOR regime will likely take time to implement and the first step in this process will be the LURB, which will be followed by subsequent secondary legislation and guidance. Transitional arrangements will apply and the Government is also seeking views on these as part of the current consultation.
The consultation will close on 9 June 2023, so there is still time to respond and share your views.
If you would like to discuss the consultations in more detail, or submit representations, please get in touch using the contact details below.
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