Environmental Impact Assessment

November 11th, 2016 by James Goudie KC

In Birchall Gardens LLP v Hertfordshire County Council [2016] EWHC 2794 (Admin) Holgate J held that the Council’s decision to grant planning permission for a recycling facility for inert waste within the green belt was lawful.  The decision was within the exercise of the Council’s planning judgment and was not irrational.  It had correctly applied its waste allocation and green belt policies.  Its screening opinion that an environmental impact assessment (“EIA”) was not required was adequately reasoned.

Holgate J stated the legal principles as follows:-

“66.     …  A screening opinion does not involve a detailed assessment of factors relevant to the grant of planning permission; that comes later and will ordinarily include environmental factors. Nor does it include a full assessment of any identifiable environmental effects. It includes only a decision, almost inevitably on the basis of less than complete information, as to whether an EIA needs to be undertaken at all. The court should not impose too high a burden on planning authorities in relation to “what is no more than a procedure intended to identify the relatively small number of cases in which the development is likely to have significant effects on the environment.”

67. The issues of whether there is sufficient information before the planning authority for them to issue a screening opinion and whether a development is likely to have significant environmental effects, are both matters of judgment for the planning authority. Such decisions may only be challenged in the courts on grounds of irrationality or other public law error …”

“72.     … the language used in a screening opinion should be read no more critically than a decision letter. It should be read in a straightforward way as a document addressed to parties familiar with the issues …”

James Goudie QC

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