Last edited 27 Apr 2015

Scoping study for environmental impact assessment

A scoping study (sometimes called a scoping opinion) is the process of determining the content of an environmental impact assessment where an environmental impact assessment is required as part of a planning application.

Broadly, environmental impact assessments are required for development described in schedule 1 and schedule 2 of The Town and Country Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) (England and Wales) Regulations. This includes projects such as:

  • Power stations, refineries, certain industrial processes, certain transport projects, dams pipelines and airports.
  • Major projects (above certain thresholds) described in the schedules of the regulations.
  • Developments in sensitive or vulnerable locations (thresholds do not apply in sensitive locations such as national parks or national nature reserves where every project must be screened for environmental impact assessment).
  • Unusually complex projects that may have adverse environmental effects.

See Environmental Impact Assessment for more information.

The local planning authority must provide a scoping opinion if requested by a developer. The scoping opinion should identify the content and extent of the information to be included in an environmental impact assessment. Scoping is not mandatory, but it is considered to be an important part of preparing an environmental impact assessment as it ensures that the assessment focuses on the key issues.

A request for a scoping study should include:

  • A plan identifying the land.
  • A description of the development.
  • A description of the possible effects of the development on the environment.
  • Other relevant information.

The local planning authority should adopt a scoping opinion within five weeks of receiving the request, or within five weeks of adopting a screening opinion if one was requested at the same time. If the local planning authority fails to adopt a scoping opinion, or if the applicant disagrees with the opinion, they may appeal to the Secretary of State who will then make a scoping direction.

NB In April 2015, the Town and Country Planning (Environmental Impact Assessments)(Amendment) Regulations 2015 came into effect, raising the threshold above which a screening decision is required to determine whether an environmental statement is necessary, as set out in the Town and Country Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations 2011. Controversially, this raised the threshold for industrial estates, residential developments and other urban developments from 0.5 hectares to five hectares (or 150 units for residential developments).

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