This section deals with the implementation of the EU Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) requirements in Irish planning law. EIAs are also required in relation to a wide range of other statutory consent applications.
The Planning and Development legislation and regulations prescribe the classes of activities and thresholds for which EIA is required or may be required. The legislation sets out the criteria by which planning authorities should assess whether it should require for an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) in cases where is not mandatory. If an application is below the threshold but is in fact accompanied by an EIS, it must be dealt with as if an EIS was mandatory.
Certain types of development are presumed to be likely to have significant effects on the environment and an EIS is therefore required. The legislation sets out the development type and scale which require mandatory EIS / EIA. Certain further types and scale of development in environmentally sensitive areas will automatically require an EIS.
Other classes of development are considered on a case-by-case basis with particular reference to thresholds. In considering whether an EIS is required in such cases, the planning authority considers whether the proposed development is within the thresholds and criteria. An EIA is required in relation to projects listed in the regulations which meet the specified criteria and are likely to have significant effects on the environment.
An opinion may be given by the relevant authority on the requirement for an EIS and the information to be furnished. A request may be made as to the scope of EIS which the planning authority requires. There are time limits within which planning authorities must comply with requests in relation to the extent of EIS requirements. The fact that the planning authority does not require an EIS does not preclude the possibility that ABP may require an EIS on appeal.
Where the application is for development by a public authority to ABP, an application may be made to ABP for an opinion on the requirement and its scope.
Where an EIS is required, ten copies of the Statement must be furnished. Certain public notice and publicity is required.
The planning authority (in the case of development by public authorities, An Bord Pleanála) gives notice to prescribed authorities and bodies. Over 20 bodies are prescribed as relevant bodies, including the non-governmental planning “watchdog” body, an Taisce. The bodies are mainly public sector (statutory) bodies, with particular environmental responsibilities. The observations of the statutory bodies must be taken into account. Where international / trans-border issues apply, notice may be required to authorities in the other state.
The planning authorities, or the Bord as the case may be, are required to consider whether the Environmental Impact Assessment is adequate to comply with the legislative requirements. They may require further information in order to ensure its adequacy.
The authority or ABP may give a notice requiring further information, which must be answered within a set period. Where significant further information is required, it may require further notifications to the statutory bodies and be made available for inspection and purchase by the public. Persons who have already made observations may be required to be notified. The applicant will be required to publish a notice that he has furnished further significant information.
The planning authority (or ABP) must have regard to the EIS supplementary information and on the observations made in determining the matter. The planning authority must give the reasons and considerations on which its decisions are based, under general planning law.
It is also required to give reasons for their decision in the context of the EIA. They must give instructions on the main measures to avoid, reduce and if possible, offset the major adverse impacts of the development. The EIS reports and the decisions must be made available for public inspection.
Local Authority Development
Local authority development, which is largely exempted from the planning control system, may be subject to Environmental Impact Assessments. Some exempt development may require an EIS. Many categories of development are exempt from planning control, in particular, those involving agriculture and demolition. However, they may be significant in scale and environmental impact and therefore require an EIA. Agricultural Regulations provide for EIA in relation to certain agricultural activities.
Where a planning authority seeks consent for development outside its area, it is treated in the same way as any other party. Local authority development within its own functional area is exempt. However, it is subject to a procedure, analogous to that for planning permission by which the public is invited to submit observations. The local authority must take them into account, in deciding whether to proceed with the development.
The requirements for Environmental Impact Assessment apply to local authority development. In this case, An Bord Pleanála is the authority which considers the EIS. The local authority may require the Board to give information in relation to its requirements in the same way that the local authority must give afford the same to the members of the public.
An Bord Pleanala Approval
Separately, certain types of development require an Bord Pleanála approval under the Planning and Development Acts, including works on the foreshore and work abstracting water supply.
ABP may exempt an authority from the requirement to submit an EIS in exceptional circumstances. Alternative requirements may be made of the authority in such cases.
Local authorities are obliged to prepare an EIS, where the development belongs to specified classes of development and /or has significant environmental effects. Where an EIS is required, the local authority may not undertake the work unless an EIS has been submitted and approved by ABP. It may be approved by ABP with or without modifications.
Broadly similar provisions apply as between ABP and the local authority, as apply to applications by private persons to the local authority.
Sub-Threshold Significant Effect
Where a sub-threshold development may have significant environmental effects, an EIS is required and An Bord Pleanála must approve. This would include development in natural heritage areas, European site, other sites subject to special consideration and status.
ABP may require an EIS if it considers the proposed development would have significant effects on the environment having regard to the statutory criteria, even if the local authority has not prepared one. Where an EIS has been, in fact, prepared for a subthreshold development, it must be submitted to Bord Pleanála for approval.
An Bord Pleanala must consider the EIS together with submissions and observations made in the context of the environmental consequences of the proposed development, for the proper planning and sustainable development of the area concerned. ABP is obliged to give the reasons and considerations on which its decision are based.
ABP may exempt a proposed project from the obligation to submit an EIS if exceptional circumstances so warrant. It may exempt a local authority project. This may not be done if another State wishes to make observations or submissions.
IPC / EPA EIAs
Certain projects involving an activity subject to IPC licensing must submit an Environmental Impact Statement to the Environmental Protection Agency when seeking that license. An Environmental Impact Assessment is required for certain waste disposal and recovery activities.
Broadly similar provisions apply. The Agency must consider if the statement submitted is compliant, may require further information. The Agency may request further information. The EIS is to be evaluated in the decision-making process. The procedures are broadly analogous to those in relation to planning legislation.
Apart from when the EPA is directly involved (as in IPC licensing), it may be notified of certain types of development. In this case, the EPA may make comments on the application.