Environmental Impact Assessment
Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is a procedure for:
- systematic examination of the likely significant effects on the environment of a proposed development;
- ensuring that adequate consideration is given to any such effects; and
- avoiding, reducing or offsetting any significant adverse effects.
The process begins with the preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) by the developer. Active public involvement in the assessment of the EIS is encouraged. The assessment procedure is carried out by the planning authority as part of the processing of the relevant planning application and by An Bord Pleanála in the event of an appeal. The EIA procedure is designed to ensure that measures to improve a proposal can be taken at the earliest opportunity.
Generally, large scale developments, including agriculture, food industry, chemical industry, infrastructure and urban developments require an EIA. In some cases, EIA is mandatory irrespective of the size of the project. In most cases, however, a threshold is set and if this is exceeded, the project must be subject to EIA. Even if thresholds are not exceeded, the planning authority (or An Bord Pleanála in the case of a planning appeal) must require the preparation of an EIS if it considers that the project would have significant effects on the environment. The full list of projects and threshold limits are set out in Schedule 5 to the Planning and Development Regulations.
So, how does EIA work? A developer prepares an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), which is submitted with the planning application for assessment as part of the planning authority’s consideration of the application. (Note: It is not possible to apply for outline permission in EIA cases because of the type of detailed information required in an EIS). The newspaper and site notices relating to the planning application must refer to the EIS. The EIS is available for inspection and purchase at the offices of the planning authority.
What is an EIS? An Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) should contain an analysis of the likely effects, good and bad, of a project on the environment. It will set out any measures to be taken to avoid or moderate any adverse environmental effects and should identify decisions already taken by the developer for this purpose.
What does an EIS include? It includes:
- a description of the proposed development;
- an outline of alternatives (e.g. processes or locations) studied by the developer;
- data necessary to identify and assess the main effects which it is likely to have on the environment; and
- a description of these effects by reference to many factors such as people, flora, fauna, soil, water, air, landscape, cultural heritage, etc.
Where significant adverse effects are identified, the statement must also include a description of the measures envisaged to avoid, reduce or remedy these effects. The EIS must contain a non-technical summary so that it can be understood by the lay person.
Preparing an EIS. EIS’s are almost always complex documents, sometimes of a highly technical nature. It will almost certainly be necessary to engage experts in various fields when preparing an EIS. Those proposing to prepare an EIS are generally advised by planning authorities to contact them for pre-application consultations if a proposal involves preparation of an EIS. These discussions can help scope the EIS, i.e. help identify which aspects should be covered, the amount of detail required and relevant agencies who should be consulted e.g. EPA, The Heritage Council, etc. Careful scoping can ensure that an EIS addresses all important issues, and will help avoid requests for further information, which could delay a planning decision.
The EPA has published Guidelines on the Information to be contained in Environmental Impact Statements. Regard must be had to EPA Guidelines when preparing an EIS (www.epa.ie).
How long does the EIA process take? As we have seen, a planning authority must decide an application with an EIS within 8 weeks of its receipt, or where further information has been requested from the applicant, within 8 weeks of receipt of that information.
How will I know an EIS has been submitted? Where an EIS is to accompany an application for planning permission, the press notice and site notice must include a reference to the EIS. The weekly list of planning applications published by planning authorities must also identify any case which involves an EIS.
Where can I see an EIS? An EIS is available for public inspection, free of charge, at the offices of the planning authority during office hours, from the date of receipt of the EIS (where a copy or any part can be obtained). Where the decision of the planning authority is appealed to An Bord Pleanála, the EIS will also be available at the offices of the Board. Observations and submissions for applications with an EIS are made in the same way as with normal planning applications.
Appeals and EIS: When an appeal is made to the Board, and the Board considers the project would have significant effects on the environment, it must require the developer to prepare an EIS, where the planning authority did not look for one. The processing of the appeal will be held in abeyance until the EIS, and any other information requested, has been received. Public notice of receipt of the EIS will be given by the Board. The EIS will be available for inspection or purchase at the Board’s offices and also at the offices of the planning authority.