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Environmental Impact Assessments

Guidance on obtaining Screening and Scoping Opinions for Environmental Impact Assessments

Screening Opinion

Screening is the process of deciding which projects require an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).

An applicant for planning permission may ask the planning authority for a "screening opinion" before submitting the application. If it receives such a request, the authority has to issue an opinion within 3 weeks of the date of receipt.

A copy of the screening opinion/screening direction has to be made available for public inspection for two years at the place where the planning register is kept.

The aim of the screening process is to identify those projects that are likely to have significant effects on the environment. In the UK determining "significance" follows a two-stage approach, firstly by applying 'exclusive' thresholds and criteria specified in the EIA Regulations and, secondly, on a case by case basis having regard to the selection.

The broad intention of requesting a screening opinion is that developers can obtain a clear view from the LPA on the need for EIA well before they reach the stage of lodging a formal planning application. This should minimise the possibility of delay or uncertainty. No action will be taken on the planning application until the developer has prepared an ES and submitted it to the planning authority.

Scoping Opinion

Before making a planning application, a developer may ask the local planning authority for their formal opinion on the information to be supplied in the Environmental Statement (ES) - a "Scoping Opinion". This provision allows the developer to be clear about what the local planning authority considers what the main effects of the development are likely to be and, therefore, the topics on which the ES should focus.

If the Local Authority considers that it needs further information to be able to adopt a scoping opinion, the developer should be asked to provide it. The authority must consult the consultation bodies and the developer before adopting its scoping opinion.

The local planning authority must adopt a scoping opinion within five weeks of receiving a request (or, where relevant, of adopting a screening opinion - regulation 10(5)). This period may be extended if the authority and developer so agree in writing. As a starting point, authorities should study the definition of environmental statement in regulation 2(1) and Schedule 4 to the Regulations (Annex C) and the guidance elsewhere in this Circular 02/99: Environmental Impact Assessment. In addition, authorities may find it useful to consult other published guidance, such as the European Commission's "Guidance on Scoping".

The scoping opinion must be kept available for public inspection for two years (with the request including documents submitted by the developer as part of that request) at the place where the planning register is kept.