Last edited 27 Apr 2015

Screening decision for environmental impact assessment

A screening decision (or screening opinion) is the process of determining whether an environmental impact assessment is required as part of a planning application.

Environmental impact assessments are required for developments 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.

If the applicant is uncertain about whether an environmental impact assessment is required they can ask for a formal opinion from the local planning authority. Alternatively, if an application is made without an environmental impact assessment, the local planning authority may adopt a screening opinion themselves.

A request for a screening opinion should contain:

  • A location plan.
  • A description of the project
  • A description of the potential environmental effects of the project.
  • Other relevant information.

The local planning authority then has 3 weeks to adopt a screening opinion, unless a longer period has been agreed with the applicant. If the local planning authority does not take a screening opinion, or if the applicant disagrees with the opinion, they may appeal to the Secretary of State who will then make a screening direction.

NB On 31 July 2014, Brandon Lewis, newly-appointed Minister of State for Housing and Planning at the Department for Communities and Local Government, announced proposals to remove the “unnecessary gold-plating” introduced by EU directives which slow down the process, by reducing the numbers of homes and other urban development proposals that would be screened unnecessarily for environmental impact assessments. Ref DCLG, Making the planning system work more efficiently and effectively, Giving communities more power in planning local development, 31 July 2014.

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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