Environmental assessment

Environmental Impact Assessment

The Environmental Impact Assessment Directive (Council Directive 85/337/EEC as amended by Directive 97/11/EC and 2003/35/EC on the assessment of the effects of certain public and private projects on the environment) requires member states of the EU to carry out assessments of the environmental impact of certain public and private projects before they are allowed to go ahead. The Directive is implemented in Ireland by the Planning and Development Acts, the Planning and Development Regulations 2001 to 2002 and the European Communities (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations 1989-2006.

The aim of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process is to ensure that projects which are likely to have a significant effect on the environment are assessed in advance so that people are aware of what those effects are likely to be. The assessment must be carried out in certain cases. For example, motorways, large scale developments in agriculture, the food industry, chemical industry, infrastructure and urban developments all require an EIA. When submitting a planning application for such a development, the applicant must also submit an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The regulations set thresholds above which an EIA required.

The local authority (or An Bord Pleanála) may require that an EIS be prepared, even if the development is below the threshold but if it is likely to have a significant effect on the environment. The full list of projects and threshold limits are set out in the Planning and Development Regulations.

The EIS is drawn up by the developer and must contain an analysis of the likely effects (good and bad), of a proposed development on the environment, including on people, flora, fauna, soil, water, air, landscape and cultural heritage. It sets out how the developer proposes to deal with the bad effects. The EIS must include a non-technical summary. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has published Guidelines on the information to be contained in an Environmental Impact Statement (pdf).

It is not possible to get outline planning permission for developments covered by the EIA. The notices about the application for planning permission must include the fact that an EIS is available and the local authority’s weekly list of planning applications must identify those applications involving an EIS.

You may get a copy of any EIS used in a planning application from the local authority or An Bord Pleanála. You may comment on an EIS in the same way as you may comment on any other aspect of a planning application.

EIA and the licensing system

If the planning application for the development in question must have an EIS attached, then the EIS must also be included in the application for a licence from the EPA. The local authority must notify the EPA of any planning application involving a development which needs an Integrated Pollution Control (IPC) licence. The EPA then has 5 weeks in which to comment on the application. If the local authority decides to give planning permission for such a development, it cannot impose conditions relating to the control of emissions. This is for the EPA. It can, however, refuse permission on environmental grounds (even if the EPA is prepared to grant a licence).

Strategic Environmental Assessment

Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) is the process by which environmental considerations are required to be fully integrated into the preparation of plans and programmes and prior to their final adoption. The EU Directive on Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) applies to a number of sectors including agriculture, forestry, fisheries, energy, industry, transport, waste management, water management, telecommunications, tourism and land use planning. SEA means that plans and programmes must be assessed for their environmental effect before they are adopted.

The SEA Directive (2001/42/EC) is implemented in Ireland by the European Communities (Environmental Assessment of Certain Plans and Programmes) Regulations 2004 (SI 435/2004) and the Planning and Development (Strategic Environmental Assessment) Regulations 2004 (SI 436/ 2004) as amended by SI 200/2011 and SI 201/2011.

The above pieces of legislation implement the following aspects of the SEA Directive:

  • The review, preparation and variation of a development plan
  • The preparation or amendment of a local area plan
  • The review or making of regional planning guidelines
  • The making of a planning scheme in respect of part or all of a Strategic Development Zone (SDZ).

Page edited: 25 March 2015