Find answers to frequently asked questions around Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) in England, including what they are and what they're used for.
Environmental Impact Assessment FAQs
What is an EIA?
It is a means of systematically evaluating the potential impacts of a development on the environment. It enables any risks to the environment and the scope of reducing them to be identified early in the planning process so they are properly understood by the public and the planning authority before it makes its decision.
When is an EIA required?
An EIA may be necessary for any planning application whose location, scale or nature are likely to have significant effects on the environment. The UK's legislation on EIA sets out types of development and thresholds to help developers and Local Planning Authorities/decision makers determine whether EIA is necessary.
A developer can request a screening opinion from the Local Planning Authority/decision maker to confirm whether an EIA is, or is not, required. A report on the EIA must be submitted with every planning application that requires one. This report is known as the Environmental Statement (ES).
- The Town and Country Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) (England and Wales) Regulations 1999
Are there any clear guidelines about EIAs I can read up on?
A good source of information on EIAs can be found on the communities and local government website.
- Environmental Impact Assessment
- Environmental Impact Assessment: A guide to procedures
Who commissions an EIA?
The Local Planning Authority decision maker will require an EIA if the development proposal falls within certain guidelines. It is the applicant's responsibility to prepare the Environmental Statement (ES).
Who is qualified to carry out an EIA?
It is the developer's responsibility to provide the Environmental Statement (ES) with the application. Normally, qualified ecologists, ornithologists etc are employed to undertake surveys and produce the EIA. While there is no obligation on the developer and their consultants to consult anyone about the information to be included in a particular ES, there are good practical reasons to do so. Local Planning Authorities/decision makers will, however, consult on the proposal and the ES.
Does the RSPB get involved in EIAs?
Yes. Depending on the proposal, the RSPB may be involved. This could range from providing data on bird distribution and numbers, to providing advice regarding the scope of the EIA and commenting on the Environmental Statement (ES).
If a planning application does not have an Environmental Statement (ES) and I believe it should, what can I do?
Contact the planning authority to voice your concerns.
If the developer submits an EIA with the application, how can I be certain that it has been properly carried out and is objective?
The Environmental Statement (ES) is made available for scrutiny alongside the planning application. If you know the site well enough, you may be able to make an assessment on its quality and appropriateness yourself. Include these comments in a letter to the Local Planning Authority within the consultation deadline.
You may also wish to consult a local wildlife expert, eg from the local Wildlife Trust. Other organisations, such as Natural England (the government's statutory nature conservation advisor) and the RSPB may also review the application and Environmental Statement (ES) and provide comments to the Local Planning Authority.
Can I object on the grounds of an inadequate EIA?
Yes. Make it clear in your objection why you think that the EIA is inadequate. If the planning authority agrees, the application could potentially be refused, or the developer may be required to provide further information to satisfy the requirements of the EIA regulations.
I have concerns about and, therefore, want to object to a planning application that I believe will damage the wildlife value of an area. What evidence do I need?
Your knowledge of the local area and the wildlife you think will be affected are key. You may also want to consider mentioning relevant local and/or national planning policies in your letter to the Local Planning Authority.
What documents should I consult when formulating an objection?
All the documents accompanying the planning application (any Environmental Statement (ES) or environmental information - should an Environmental Impact Assessment not have been required), the Local Development Plans and any relevant national planning policies, Biodiversity Action Plans, conservation designations on the site and its surroundings, as well as any biological surveys and other records that exist.
How extensive and detailed does the evidence I supply have to be?
The more detailed and the broader the range of valid issues, the more weight your objection will carry.
How can I gather the necessary evidence?
Consult local conservation groups, bird clubs, and biological records centre etc. Add observations and records from local people, including your own.
If there is time, you can even carry out a thorough survey of the site and present the results with your representation.
Can I object on the grounds that lots of different animals use the habitats that would be affected?
Yes, but be realistic. Some animals, especially rare and protected species, in certain numbers or situations carry more weight than others.
Can I object on grounds that bats fly over the area?
If bats hunt over an area it could mean a roost is present on the site, or nearby. Carrying out a full bat survey might be justified in these circumstances, and the lack of one might be grounds for objection.
The Bat Conservation Trust is a good place to go for more information on this. You should also contact the Local Planning Authority to raise your concerns.
Can I ask for the deadline to be extended in order to gather the necessary evidence for my objection?
Consultation deadlines are often set by statutory requirements, so it may not be possible for a Local Planning Authority to consider your letter if you do not respond within the deadline. However, contact the Local Planning Authority to check this.
Where can I find what wildlife information already exists on a piece of land?
You can find this information from a number of places, including local records centres, the Wildlife Trusts, local bird clubs, and bat groups.
I cannot find a recent survey of the site. I believe it is needed, but it is the wrong time of the year to do it. What can I do?
Contact the Local Planning Authority to discuss your concerns.
I want to survey a site with a development proposal, but the landowner won't allow me access. What can I do?
If the development site is private property, you may not be allowed access without permission from the landowner. However, if you believe a survey is necessary and has not been done, contact the Local Planning Authority to raise your concerns.
Can the RSPB carry out a bird survey on my behalf?
Not normally. However, we can advise on appropriate methods, the best season to carry out a survey, and in some cases suggest a source of local voluntary help for surveys.
The Developer has surveyed the site for a particular species, but I think it has been done at the wrong time of the year.
You should let the Local Planning Authority know of your concerns. If further surveys are subsequently carried out for the proposal and supplied to the Local Planning Authority, it is very likely you will have extra time to respond to that new information. However, you will need to check this with the Local Planning Authority.
Can a developer ask the planning authority to grant permission with a condition requiring a protected species survey to be done before development starts?
If there is the potential for a protected species to be present, a survey should be carried out and a report submitted to the Local Planning Authority (LPA) before any decision on the application is made. If you are concerned there may be a protected species present and a survey has not been carried out by the developer, you should discuss your concerns with the LPA.
Can you give me examples of 'material considerations'
In planning law, material considerations are any other relevant factors besides the adopted development plan. Examples include draft policy documents, national policy guidance and newly emerged information (eg on wildlife interests). Material considerations do not include things such as effects on the value of neighbouring property, or the identity or reputation of the applicant.
When an issue is a material consideration, eg wildlife interests, this only means that (for example) wildlife interests are considered, not that they would automatically stop the development.
What do I do if I see damage going on?
If this is a development with an 'active' planning application, contact the Local Planning Authority's case officer. For developments that have been granted permission, but where you feel that planning conditions are not being met, contact the enforcement officer, and for damage to designated sites such as SSSIs or to protected species, contact Natural England.
Habitat and nest protection FAQs
How can I protect trees? How do Tree Preservation Orders (TPO) work?
The only way to permanently protect a single tree, or a group of trees is for a local authority to issue a Tree Preservation Order (TPO). A TPO can only be issued on trees which have historical, landscape or amenity value in their own right. The tree officer at your local council can give you case-specific information and advice.
Trees in Conservation Areas also receive some protection, as anyone wanting to carry out works to trees in Conservation Areas need to apply to the Local Planning Authority before carrying out any work. The Local Planning Authority will then consider the contribution the tree makes to the character of the area and, if necessary, make a tree preservation order to protect it.
How can I prevent hedges being cut/removed?
Hedges need periodic cutting to keep them in good condition, but it is recommended that this should not be carried out during the birds' breeding season (generally 1 March to 31 July) because of the risk of damaging active nests.
Countryside hedgerows are protected against removal by the Hedgerow Regulations, which protect all important hedgerows. Removal can only be done with the permission of the planning authority.
Old farm buildings are being converted. How can I protect the nesting barn owls?
It is unlikely the presence of nesting barn owls can prevent the development going ahead. However, the legal protection afforded to the birds means the work cannot commence whilst the nest is in use or being built.
Consider asking for a planning condition that requires either an owl window in the new building design, or which requires permanent nest boxes being put up nearby which will be maintained for long-term use.
How do I protect roof nests from roofers and builders?
Such work cannot legally be carried out if it impacts on the nests themselves. It is recommended that roofing work should not be done during the birds' breeding season (generally 1 March to 31 July).
If the roofing work results in the loss of a nesting site, you can ask if the house holder would consider the birds and put up nesting boxes to replace the sites lost.
How do I protect skylarks and other ground-nesting birds from development?
It is unlikely that the presence of ground-nesting birds is going to stop a development going ahead, but it is worth consulting the Biodiversity Action Plan to see if the Local Planning Authority have pledged to protect or promote the species in question.
Also, the legal protection afforded to the birds means work on the site cannot commence or continue if nests would be damaged or destroyed. It is also an offence to disturb certain species of birds on or near the nest, if they are listed on Schedule 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
Planning process FAQs
How can I find out if the Government is proposing some significant changes to the planning system?
Our own website has information on some of the latest issues regarding proposed changes. Another good source of information is the Royal Town Planning Institute.
Who must be informed about planning applications and how?
It is a statutory requirement that planning applications are publicised in the locality to which they relate, but the form of publicity varies according to the type of application and the location.
Planning applications are often publicised via site notices at/near the location of the proposed development and possibly also in a local paper. Immediate neighbours will also be notified, as will statutory consultees (such as Natural England, the Environment Agency, the Highways authority etc).
How long do I have to object to different types of planning application?
Generally 21 days, but this can vary, so it is always best to consult the Local Planning Authority for precise information.
Full details of the application can be viewed at the planning authority offices and also often on their website.
How long do I have to object to other consenting regimes (eg for major infrastructure determined under the Infrastructure Planning Commission)?
This information should be provided with the consultation. If in doubt, speak to the relevant decision maker.
Where can I view the planning documents?
These documents are available for everyone to view at your local authority planning department. They are normally also posted on the authority's website, and often in your local library. If you have problems accessing the documents, you should contact the planning department.
Where can I find the development plans and other local authority documentation?
They are available to view at your local planning office and are often on their website and at the local library. You should contact the planning office to find out.
Can I still object if I miss the deadline for objections?
You should always aim to act within the set timescale as missing the deadline is often final. However, if you have good reason, you may be able to agree an extension with the Local Planning Authority before the deadline passes – but you must move quickly.
A planning permission has been granted – is there anything I can do to stop the development going ahead?
Once a planning permission has been granted, it is too late to stop it, or to vary its terms and conditions. This should be done during the consultation process.
Is the RSPB involved in this planning matter? If not, why not?
We will always target our efforts to those planning applications that have the greatest impact on wildlife. You can check with our regional office to find out whether we are involved, or not.
I need the RSPB to object to this planning proposal – you have more clout - the council is not going to listen to an ordinary individual
The RSPB does, indeed have a good record of success in defending special places from damage. However, our effectiveness would be weakened if we took on too many cases – and, in addition, resources will also be a key consideration in what we can take on.
Do not underestimate the power of local grass-roots opinion mobilised behind a sound case. Our Local planning pack is designed to help local campaigns. The relevant RSPB regional office will be able to tell you whether we are able to take it on as a piece of case work or not.
I'm concerned about the way the Local Planning Authority is handling the application/my concerns. What can I do?
You should first raise your concerns with the Local Planning Authority to see if they can be resolved. If you are still unhappy after discussing with the Local Planning Authority, you can take up your concerns with the Local Government Ombudsman.
What rights do I have to speak at Planning Committee?
Planning Committee meetings are public. If you have submitted a representation (either an objection or in support), the Local Planning Authority may allow you to speak at the meeting where the application is decided on. You should contact the planning department to check.
Can I insist that a recording is made of the Planning Committee at which an important decision is made?
You can ask, but there is no requirement for a recording to be made.
What happens if I ask the Local Planning Authority to keep me informed about the development of a project, and they don't?
The Local Planning Authority is not obliged to keep you informed. You need to contact them at intervals to find out about progress.
How do I find out if the planning conditions imposed on a planning permission have actually been carried out? What do I do if I suspect they have not?
Contact the case officer at your planning department to find out about compliance, and report any breaches to the enforcement officer.
Planning conditions state that a group of trees must be retained. The developer has started to fell them? What can I do?
This should be reported to the enforcement officer at your planning department. If active birds' nests are involved, also report it without delay to the Wildlife Crime Officer at your police constabulary as damage or destruction of active nests is an offence under the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981.