Guidance

Strategic environmental assessment and sustainability appraisal

Provides clarity on the need for sustainability appraisal and strategic environmental assessment in relation to plan development.

Planning practice guidance will, where necessary, be updated in due course to reflect changes to the National Planning Policy Framework (the new version of which was published in July 2018). Where any hyperlinks direct users to the previous National Planning Policy Framework (2012), please disregard these. If you’d like an email alert when changes are made to planning guidance please subscribe.

Where plans are being prepared under the transitional arrangements set out in Annex 1 to the revised National Planning Policy Framework, the policies in the previous version of the framework published in 2012 will continue to apply, as will any previous guidance which has been superseded since the new framework was published in July 2018.

Strategic environmental assessment and sustainability appraisal

What is a sustainability appraisal, and how does it relate to strategic environmental assessment?

A sustainability appraisal is a systematic process that must be carried out during the preparation of a Local Plan. Its role is to promote sustainable development by assessing the extent to which the emerging plan, when judged against reasonable alternatives, will help to achieve relevant environmental, economic and social objectives.

This process is an opportunity to consider ways by which the plan can contribute to improvements in environmental, social and economic conditions, as well as a means of identifying and mitigating any potential adverse effects that the plan might otherwise have. By doing so, it can help make sure that the proposals in the plan are the most appropriate given the reasonable alternatives. It can be used to test the evidence underpinning the plan and help to demonstrate how the tests of soundness have been met. Sustainability appraisal should be applied as an iterative process informing the development of the Local Plan.

Section 19 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 requires a local planning authority to carry out a sustainability appraisal of each of the proposals in a Local Plan during its preparation. More generally, section 39 of the Act requires that the authority preparing a Local Plan must do so “with the objective of contributing to the achievement of sustainable development”.

Sustainability appraisals incorporate the requirements of the Environmental Assessment of Plans and Programmes Regulations 2004 (commonly referred to as the ‘Strategic Environmental Assessment Regulations’), which implement the requirements of the European Directive 2001/42/EC (the ‘Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive’) on the assessment of the effects of certain plans and programmes on the environment. Sustainability appraisal ensures that potential environmental effects are given full consideration alongside social and economic issues.

Strategic environmental assessment alone can be required in some limited situations where sustainability appraisal is not needed. This is usually only where either neighbourhood plans or supplementary planning documents could have significant environmental effects.

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What is the Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive?

The Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive is a European Union requirement that seeks to provide a high level of protection of the environment by integrating environmental considerations into the process of preparing certain plans and programmes.

The aim of the Directive is “to contribute to the integration of environmental considerations into the preparation and adoption of plans and programmes with a view to promoting sustainable development, by ensuing that, in accordance with this Directive, an environmental assessment is carried out of certain plans and programmes which are likely to have significant effects on the environment.”

The Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive is implemented through the Environmental Assessment of Plans and Programmes Regulations 2004, which apply to a plan or programme related solely to England (or part of England), or to England (or part of England) and any other part of the United Kingdom. Where the Directive applies there are some specific requirements that must be complied with and which, in the case of Local Plans, should be addressed as an integral part of the sustainability appraisal process.

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What is the difference between sustainability appraisal, strategic environmental assessment and Environmental Impact Assessment?

Sustainability appraisal and strategic environmental assessment are tools used at the plan-making stage to assess the likely effects of the plan when judged against reasonable alternatives. A sustainability appraisal of the proposals in each Local Plan is required by section 19 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 and incorporates the required strategic environmental assessment.

Strategic environmental assessment alone can be required in some exceptional situations. This is usually only where either neighbourhood plans or supplementary planning documents could have significant environmental effects.

In contrast Environmental Impact Assessment is applied to individual projects which are likely to have significant environmental effects (also see the Town and Country Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations 2011) .

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Table: The Strategic Environmental Assessment Regulations requirements checklist

Strategic Environmental Assessment Regulations requirements checklist

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Revision date: 09 02 2015 See previous version

Sustainability appraisal requirements for Local Plans

What documents in a Local Plan require a sustainability appraisal?

Sustainability appraisal is required during the preparation of a Local Plan. The local planning authority must carry out an appraisal of the sustainability of the proposals. This will help the authority to assess how the plan will contribute to the achievement of sustainable development.

It applies to any of the documents that can form part of a Local Plan, including core strategies, site allocation documents and area action plans. Neighbourhood plans, supplementary planning documents, the Statement of Community Involvement, the Local Development Scheme or the Authority Monitoring Report are excluded from this requirement.

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When should a local planning authority start the sustainability appraisal process?

Sustainability appraisal is integral to the preparation and development of a Local Plan, to identify how sustainable development is being addressed, so work should start at the same time that work starts on developing the plan. The relationship between the sustainability appraisal and Local Plan preparation processes is shown in paragraph 13. The sustainability appraisal process should be taken into account when the local planning authority develops its timetable for the preparation of the Local Plan as outlined in the Local Development Scheme.

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Is strategic environmental assessment required in addition to sustainability appraisal?

Strategic environmental assessment considers only the environmental effects of a plan, whereas sustainability appraisal considers the plan’s wider economic and social effects in addition to its potential environmental impacts. Sustainability appraisal should meet all of the requirements of the Environmental Assessment of Plans and Programmes Regulations 2004, so a separate strategic environmental assessment should not be required.

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Do supplementary planning documents require a sustainability appraisal or strategic environmental assessment?

Supplementary planning documents do not require a sustainability appraisal but may in exceptional circumstances require a strategic environmental assessment if they are likely to have significant environmental effects that have not already have been assessed during the preparation of the Local Plan.

A strategic environmental assessment is unlikely to be required where a supplementary planning document deals only with a small area at a local level (see regulation 5(6) of the Environmental Assessment of Plans and Programmes Regulations 2004), unless it is considered that there are likely to be significant environmental effects.

Before deciding whether significant environment effects are likely, the local planning authority should take into account the criteria specified in schedule 1 to the Environmental Assessment of Plans and Programmes Regulations 2004 and consult the consultation bodies.

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What level of detail is required in a sustainability appraisal?

The sustainability appraisal should only focus on what is needed to assess the likely significant effects of the Local Plan. It should focus on the environmental, economic and social impacts that are likely to be significant. It does not need to be done in any more detail, or using more resources, than is considered to be appropriate for the content and level of detail in the Local Plan.

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Who is responsible for ensuring that the sustainability appraisal requirements have been met?

The local planning authority is responsible for ensuring that the sustainability appraisal has been carried out in accordance with the relevant planning and environmental assessment legislation.

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How does the sustainability appraisal relate to other forms of Impact Assessment?

A sustainability appraisal should incorporate the requirements of the Environmental Assessment of Plans and Programmes Regulations 2004. The Local Plan may also require a Habitats Regulations Assessment, as set out in the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010 (as amended) if it is considered likely to have significant effects on European habitats or species. The sustainability appraisal should take account of the findings of a Habitats Regulations Assessment, if one is undertaken.

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How should the sustainability appraisal process be applied to Local Plan preparation?

The key stages of Local Plan preparation and their relationship with the sustainability appraisal process are shown at paragraph 13.

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Sustainability appraisal process

Flowchart: sustainability appraisal process

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Paragraph: 013 Reference ID: 11-013-20140306

Revision date: 06 03 2014

What is required at the scoping stage?

The scoping stage (Stage A) must identify the scope and level of detail of the information to be included in the sustainability appraisal report. It should set out the context, objectives and approach of the assessment; and identify relevant environmental, economic and social issues and objectives.

Although the scoping stage is a requirement of the process, a formal scoping report is not required by law but is a useful way of presenting information at the scoping stage. A key aim of the scoping procedure is to help ensure the sustainability appraisal process is proportionate and relevant to the Local Plan being assessed.

When deciding on the scope and level of detail of the information that must be included in the report, the plan-maker must consult the consultation bodies. Where a consultation body decides to respond, it should do so within 5 weeks of receipt of the request. (See regulation 12(5) and 12(6) of the Environmental Assessment of Plans and Programmes Regulations 2004.)

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Who are the consultation bodies?

Regulation 4 of the Environmental Assessment of Plans and Programmes Regulations 2004 defines certain organisations with environmental responsibilities as consultation bodies. In England the consultation bodies are Historic England, Natural England and the Environment Agency.

Although this guidance covers England, some local planning authorities may need to consult the relevant consultation bodies in the Devolved Administrations to help them determine whether their plan is likely to have significant environmental effects.

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What is baseline information?

The term ‘baseline information’ refers to the existing environmental, economic and social characteristics of the area likely to be affected by the Local Plan, and their likely evolution without implementation of new policies.

The area likely to be affected may lie outside the local planning authority boundary and plan makers may need to obtain information from other local planning authorities.

Baseline information provides the basis against which to assess the likely effects of alternative proposals in the plan.

Wherever possible, data should be included on historic and likely future trends, including a ‘business as usual’ scenario (ie anticipated trends in the absence of new policies being introduced). This information will enable the potential effects of the implementation of the Local Plan to be assessed in the context of existing and potential environmental, economic and social trends.

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How should plan-makers develop and refine options and assess effects?

Plan-makers should assess the policies in a draft Local Plan, and the reasonable alternatives, to identify the likely significant effects of the available options (Stage B). Forecasting and evaluation of the significant effects should help to develop and refine the proposals in each Local Plan document.

Reasonable alternatives should be identified and considered at an early stage in the plan making process, as the assessment of these should inform the local planning authority in choosing its preferred approach (when developing alternatives, paragraph 152 of the National Planning Policy Framework should be referred to).

Stage B should also involve considering ways of mitigating any adverse effects, maximising beneficial effects and ways of monitoring likely significant effects.

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How should the sustainability appraisal assess alternatives and identify likely significant effects?

The sustainability appraisal needs to compare all reasonable alternatives including the preferred approach and assess these against the baseline environmental, economic and social characteristics of the area and the likely situation if the Local Plan were not to be adopted.

The sustainability appraisal should predict and evaluate the effects of the preferred approach and reasonable alternatives and should clearly identify the significant positive and negative effects of each alternative.

The sustainability appraisal should identify, describe and evaluate the likely significant effects on environmental, economic and social factors using the evidence base. Criteria for determining the likely significance of effects on the environment are set out in schedule 1 to the Environmental Assessment of Plans and Programmes Regulations 2004.

The sustainability appraisal should identify any likely significant adverse effects and measures envisaged to prevent, reduce and, as fully as possible, offset them. The sustainability appraisal must consider all reasonable alternatives and assess them in the same level of detail as the option the plan-maker proposes to take forward in the Local Plan (the preferred approach).

Reasonable alternatives are the different realistic options considered by the plan-maker in developing the policies in its plan. They must be sufficiently distinct to highlight the different sustainability implications of each so that meaningful comparisons can be made. The alternatives must be realistic and deliverable.

The sustainability appraisal should outline the reasons the alternatives were selected, the reasons the rejected options were not taken forward and the reasons for selecting the preferred approach in light of the alternatives. It should provide conclusions on the overall sustainability of the different alternatives, including those selected as the preferred approach in the Local Plan. Any assumptions used in assessing the significance of effects of the Local Plan should be documented.

The development and appraisal of proposals in Local Plan documents should be an iterative process, with the proposals being revised to take account of the appraisal findings. This should inform the selection, refinement and publication of proposals (when preparing a Local Plan, paragraph 152 of the National Planning Policy Framework should be considered).

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What should the sustainability appraisal report accompanying the publication of the draft Local Plan cover?

Regulation 12 of the Environmental Assessment of Plans and Programmes Regulations 2004 sets out the formal requirements of an ‘environmental report’, which should form an integral part of the sustainability appraisal report and is a core output of any strategic environmental assessment. An environmental report for the purpose of the regulations must identify, describe and evaluate the likely significant effects on the environment of implementing the Local Plan policies and of the reasonable alternatives taking into account the objectives and geographical scope of the Local Plan. The sustainability appraisal report must clearly show how these requirements have been met as well as recording the wider assessment of social and economic effects.

The sustainability appraisal must include a non-technical summary of the information within the main report. The summary should be prepared with a range of readers in mind, and provide a clear, accessible overview of the process and findings.

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Who should be consulted on the sustainability appraisal?

The local planning authority must consult the consultation bodies and other parties who, in its opinion, are affected or likely to be affected by, or have an interest in, the decisions involved in the assessment and adoption or making of the plan. Further details on consultation procedures are set out in regulation 13 of the Environmental Assessment of Plans and Programmes Regulations 2004.

The local planning authority may also want to consult those they are inviting representations from, as part of the development of the Local Plan itself. The sustainability appraisal report, including the non-technical summary, must be published alongside the draft Local Plan for a minimum of 6 weeks.

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Should the sustainability appraisal report be updated if the draft Local Plan is modified following responses to consultations?

The sustainability appraisal report will not necessarily have to be amended if the Local Plan is modified following responses to consultations. Modifications to the sustainability appraisal should be considered only where appropriate and proportionate to the level of change being made to the Local Plan. A change is likely to be significant if it substantially alters the Plan and/ or is likely to give to significant effects.

Further assessment may be required if the changes have not previously been assessed and are likely to give rise to significant effects. A further round of consultation on the sustainability appraisal may also be required in such circumstances but this should only be undertaken where necessary. Changes to the Local Plan that are not significant will not require further sustainability appraisal work.

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What is the role of the sustainability appraisal report at examination of the Local Plan?

The sustainability appraisal report should be submitted with the Local Plan to the Secretary of State for independent examination. The sustainability appraisal report will be examined as part of the evidence base for the Local Plan.

The sustainability appraisal report should help to integrate different areas of evidence and to demonstrate why the proposals in the Local Plan are the most appropriate.

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Will the sustainability appraisal report have to be amended if modifications to the Local Plan are proposed at examination?

It is up to the local planning authority to decide whether the sustainability appraisal report should be amended following proposed changes to an emerging plan. A local planning authority can ask the Inspector to recommend changes to the submission Local Plan to make it sound or they can propose their own changes.

If the local planning authority assesses that necessary changes are significant, and were not previously subject to sustainability appraisal, then further sustainability appraisal may be required and the sustainability appraisal report should be updated and amended accordingly.

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What information should be provided following the adoption of a Local Plan?

Regulation 16 of the Environmental Assessment of Plans and Programmes Regulations 2004 sets out the post-adoption requirements of the local planning authority.

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Does the local planning authority have to monitor the significant effects of implementing the adopted Local Plan?

Local planning authorities should monitor the significant environmental effects of implementing the Local Plan (as required by regulation 17 of the Environmental Assessment of Plans and Programmes Regulations 2004). This will enable local planning authorities to identify unforeseen adverse effects at an early stage and to enable appropriate remedial actions.

Details of monitoring arrangements must be included in the sustainability appraisal report, the post-adoption statement or in the Local Plan itself. The monitoring results should be reported in the local planning authority’s Monitoring Report.

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Strategic environmental assessment requirements for neighbourhood plans

Does a neighbourhood plan require a sustainability appraisal?

There is no legal requirement for a neighbourhood plan to have a sustainability appraisal as set out in section 19 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004. However, a qualifying body must demonstrate how its plan or order will contribute to achieving sustainable development. A sustainability appraisal may be a useful approach for doing this and the guidance on sustainability appraisal of Local Plans should be referred to.

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Does a neighbourhood plan require a strategic environmental assessment?

In some limited circumstances, where a neighbourhood plan is likely to have significant environmental effects, it may require a strategic environmental assessment. Draft neighbourhood plan proposals should be assessed to determine whether the plan is likely to have significant environmental effects. This process is commonly referred to as a “screening” assessment and the requirements are set out in regulation 9 of the Environmental Assessment of Plans and Programmes Regulations 2004.

If likely significant environmental effects are identified, an environmental report must be prepared in accordance with paragraphs (2) and (3) of regulation 12 of those regulations.

One of the basic conditions that will be tested by the independent examiner is whether the making of the neighbourhood plan is compatible with European Union obligations (including under the Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive).

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Revision date: 09 02 2015 See previous version

How do you know if a draft neighbourhood plan might have significant environmental effects?

To decide whether a draft neighbourhood plan might have significant environmental effects, it must be assessed (screened) at an early stage of the plan’s preparation according to the requirements set out in regulation 9 of the Environmental Assessment of Plans and Programmes Regulations 2004. These include a requirement to consult the environmental assessment consultation bodies.

Each consultation body will be able to advise on particular topics relevant to its specific area of expertise and responsibility, and the specific information that it holds.

Where it is determined that the plan is unlikely to have significant environmental effects (and, accordingly, does not require an environmental assessment), a statement of reasons for the determination should be prepared. A copy of the statement must be submitted with the neighbourhood plan proposal and made available to the independent examiner.

The local planning authority, as part of its duty to advice or assist, should consider putting in place processes to determine whether the proposed neighbourhood plan will require a strategic environmental assessment. The qualifying body should work with the local planning authority to be sure that the authority has the information it needs.

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Revision date: 09 02 2015 See previous version

What do you do if a neighbourhood plan is likely to have a significant environmental effect?

Where a neighbourhood plan is likely to have a significant effect on the environment a strategic environmental assessment must be carried out and an environmental report prepared in accordance with paragraphs (2) and (3) of regulation 12 of the Environmental Assessment of Plans and Programmes Regulations 2004.

Whether a neighbourhood plan proposal requires a strategic environmental assessment, and (if so) the level of detail needed, will depend on what is proposed. A strategic environmental assessment may be required, for example, where:

  • a neighbourhood plan allocates sites for development
  • the neighbourhood area contains sensitive natural or heritage assets that may be affected by the proposals in the plan
  • the neighbourhood plan is likely to have significant environmental effects that have not already been considered and dealt with through a sustainability appraisal of the Local Plan.

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What is the relationship between a Strategic Environmental Assessment and a Habitats Assessment?

Strategic environmental assessment is a process for evaluating, at the earliest appropriate stage, the environmental effects of a plan before it is made. A Habitats Regulations assessment identifies whether a plan is likely to have a significant effect on a European site, either alone or in combination with other plans or projects. This assessment must determine whether significant effects on a European site can be ruled out on the basis of objective information.

If the conclusion is that the plan is likely to have a significant effect on a European site then an appropriate assessment of the implications of the plan for the site, in view of the site’s conservation objectives, must be undertaken. If a plan is one which has been determined to require an appropriate assessment under the Habitats directive then it will normally also require a Strategic Environmental Assessment.

Guidance on statutory obligations concerning designated sites and protected species is published separately because its application is wider than planning. Updated guidance on the law affecting European sites, protected species and Sites of Special Scientific Interest is being prepared by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs and will replace the advice set out in Circular 06/05: Biodiversity and Geological Conservation

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When should a plan-maker start producing a strategic environmental assessment?

Where it is determined that a neighbourhood plan is likely to have significant effects on the environment and that a strategic environmental assessment must be carried out, work on this should start at the earliest opportunity. This is so that the processes for gathering evidence for the environmental report and for producing the draft neighbourhood plan can be integrated, and to allow the assessment process to inform the choices being made in the plan.

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Revision date: 09 02 2015 See previous version

What level of detail is required in a strategic environmental assessment?

The strategic environmental assessment should only focus on what is needed to assess the likely significant effects of the neighbourhood plan proposal. It should focus on the environmental impacts which are likely to be significant. It does not need to be done in any more detail, or using more resources, than is considered to be appropriate for the content and level of detail in the neighbourhood plan.

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Who is responsible for ensuring that the strategic environmental assessment requirements have been met?

It is the responsibility of the local planning authority to ensure that all the regulations appropriate to the nature and scope of a neighbourhood plan proposal submitted to it have been met in order for the proposal to progress. The local planning authority must decide whether the neighbourhood plan proposal is compatible with EU obligations (including obligations under the Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive):

  • when it takes the decision on whether the neighbourhood plan should proceed to referendum; and
  • when it takes the decision on whether or not to make the neighbourhood plan (which brings it into legal force).

A qualifying body should make every effort to ensure that the draft neighbourhood plan that it submits to the local planning authority:

  • meets each of the basic conditions
  • has been prepared in accordance with the correct process and all those required to be consulted have been
  • is accompanied by all the required documents

One of the following documents must be included with a neighbourhood plan proposal when it is submitted to the local planning authority:

  1. a statement of reasons for a determination under regulation 9(1) of the Environmental Assessment of Plans and Programmes Regulations 2004 that the proposal is unlikely to have significant environmental effects or
  2. an environmental report prepared in accordance with paragraphs (2) and (3) of regulation 12 of the Environmental Assessment of Plans and Programmes Regulations 2004

The local planning authority should discuss the steps that the qualifying body needs to take and what needs to be produced in order to comply with the Environmental Assessment of Plans and Programmes Regulations 2004 as part of meeting its duty to advise or assist the qualifying body with neighbourhood planning.

The local planning authority should consider what further assistance it can provide to help a qualifying body comply with the regulations, for example making available information and evidence that may help a qualifying body that is preparing the environmental report where one is required.

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How should the strategic environmental assessment process be applied to neighbourhood plan preparation?

The key stages of neighbourhood plan preparation and their relationship with the strategic environmental assessment process are shown at paragraph 33.

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Revision date: 06 03 2014

Strategic environmental assessment process

Flowchart: strategic environmental assessment process

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Paragraph: 033 Reference ID: 11-033-20150209

Revision date: 09 02 2015 See previous version

What is required at the scoping stage?

The scoping stage (Stage B) must identify the scope and level of detail of the information to be included in the environmental report. It should set out the context, objectives and approach of the assessment; establish the baseline; and identify relevant environmental issues and objectives.

Although the scoping stage is a requirement of the process, a formal scoping report is not required by law but is a useful way of presenting information at the scoping stage. A key aim of the scoping procedure is to help ensure the strategic environmental assessment is proportionate and relevant to the neighbourhood plan being assessed.

The consultation bodies must be consulted on the scope and level of detail of the information that must be included within the report.

Where a consultation body decides to respond, it should do so within 5 weeks of receipt of the request. (See regulation 12(5) and 12(6) of the Environmental Assessment of Plans and Programmes Regulations 2004.)

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Revision date: 09 02 2015 See previous version

Who are the consultation bodies?

Regulation 4 of the Environmental Assessment of Plans and Programmes Regulations 2004 defines certain organisations with environmental responsibilities as consultation bodies. In England the environmental assessment consultation bodies are Historic England, Natural England and the Environment Agency.

Although this guidance covers England, the relevant consultation bodies in the Devolved Administrations may need to be consulted to help determine whether the plan is likely to have significant environmental effects.

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Revision date: 09 02 2015 See previous version

What is baseline information?

The term ‘baseline information’ refers to the existing environmental characteristics of the area likely to be affected by the neighbourhood plan, and its likely evolution without implementation of the neighbourhood plan.

The area likely to be affected may lie outside the designated neighbourhood area and the local planning authority boundary and plan makers may need to obtain information from other local planning authorities.

Baseline information provides the basis against which to assess the likely effects of alternative proposals in the draft plan.

Wherever possible data should be included on historic and likely future trends, including a ‘no neighbourhood plan’ or ‘business as usual’ scenario (ie anticipated trends in the absence of the neighbourhood plan being introduced). This information will enable the potential environmental effects of the implementation of the neighbourhood plan to be assessed in the context of existing and potential environmental trends. The local planning authority may be able to provide this ’baseline information’.

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Revision date: 06 03 2014

How should plan-makers develop and refine options and assess effects?

Proposals in a draft neighbourhood plan, and the reasonable alternatives should be assessed to identify the likely significant effects of the available options (Stage C). Forecasting and evaluation of the significant effects should help to develop and refine the proposals in the neighbourhood plan.

Reasonable alternatives should be identified and considered at an early stage in the plan making process as the assessment of these should inform the preferred approach.

This stage should also involve considering ways of mitigating any adverse effects, maximising beneficial effects and ways of monitoring likely significant effects.

Paragraph: 037 Reference ID: 11-037-20150209

Revision date: 09 02 2015 See previous version

How should the strategic environmental assessment assess alternatives and identify likely significant effects?

The strategic environmental assessment needs to compare the alternatives including the preferred approach, and assess these against the baseline environmental characteristics of the area and the likely situation if the neighbourhood plan were not to be made. The strategic environmental assessment should predict and evaluate the effects of the preferred approach and reasonable alternatives and should clearly identify the significant positive and negative effects of each alternative.

The strategic environmental assessment should identify, describe and evaluate the likely significant effects on environmental factors using the evidence base. Criteria for determining the likely significance of effects on the environment are set out in schedule 1 to the Environmental Assessment of Plans and Programmes Regulations 2004.

The strategic environmental assessment should identify any likely significant adverse effects and measures envisaged to prevent, reduce, and, as fully as possible, offset them. Reasonable alternatives must be considered and assessed in the same level of detail as the preferred approach intended to be taken forward in the neighbourhood plan (the preferred approach). Reasonable alternatives are the different realistic options considered while developing the policies in the draft plan. They must be sufficiently distinct to highlight the different environmental implications of each so that meaningful comparisons can be made. The alternatives must be realistic and deliverable.

The strategic environmental assessment should outline the reasons the alternatives were selected, the reasons the rejected options were not taken forward and the reasons for selecting the preferred approach in light of the alternatives. It should provide conclusions on the overall environmental impact of the different alternatives, including those selected as the preferred approach in the neighbourhood plan. Any assumptions used in assessing the significance of effects of the neighbourhood plan should be documented.

The development and appraisal of proposals in the neighbourhood plan should be an iterative process, with the proposals being revised to take account of the appraisal findings. This should inform the selection, refinement and publication of the preferred approach for consultation.

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Revision date: 09 02 2015 See previous version

What should the environmental report accompanying the draft neighbourhood plan cover?

Regulation 12 of the Environmental Assessment of Plans and Programmes Regulations 2004 sets out the requirements of an environmental report, which is a core output of any strategic environmental assessment. An environmental report for the purpose of the regulations must identify, describe and evaluate the likely significant effects on the environment of implementing the neighbourhood plan policies and of the reasonable alternatives taking into account the objectives and geographical scope of the neighbourhood plan. The environmental report must clearly show how these requirements have been met.

The environmental report must include a non-technical summary of the information within the main report. The summary should be prepared with a range of readers in mind, and provide a clear, accessible overview of the process and findings.

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Revision date: 06 03 2014

Who should be consulted on the environmental report?

The environmental report, including the non-technical summary, must be made available alongside the draft neighbourhood plan. The consultation bodies should be sent a copy of these documents and the documents publicised in order to bring them to the attention of those members of the public likely to be affected by, or have an interest in the decisions involved in the assessment and development of the neighbourhood plan. The consultation bodies and the interested parties should have an opportunity to express their opinion and be given sufficient time to do so. These procedures can be incorporated into the pre-submission publicity and consultation process for the neighbourhood plan.

Full details are set out in regulation 13 of the Environmental Assessment of Plans and Programmes Regulations 2004.

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Revision date: 06 03 2014

Should the environmental report be updated if the draft neighbourhood plan is modified following responses to consultations?

The environmental report will not necessarily have to be amended if the neighbourhood plan is modified following responses to consultation. Modifications to the environmental report should be considered only where appropriate and proportionate to the level of change being made to the neighbourhood plan. A change is likely to be significant if it substantially alters the draft plan and or is likely to give rise to significant environmental effects. Further assessment may be required if the changes have not previously been assessed and are likely to give rise to significant effects.

Changes that are not significant will not require further environmental assessment work.

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Revision date: 06 03 2014

What is the role of the environmental report at the independent examination of the neighbourhood plan?

One of the basic conditions that will be tested by the independent examiner is whether the neighbourhood plan is compatible with European Union obligations, as transposed into UK law. The basic condition statement submitted to the local planning authority with the draft plan should set out how the plan meets this basic condition. One of the following documents must be included with a neighbourhood plan proposal when it is submitted to the local planning authority, and made available to the independent examiner:

When submitted to the local planning authority, the neighbourhood plan must be accompanied by a consultation statement. This statement should set out:

  • who has been consulted during the preparation of the plan, including the preparation of the environmental report;
  • how they were consulted;
  • a summary of the main issues and concerns raised by those consulted; and
  • how these issues and concerns have been considered and, where relevant, addressed in the neighbourhood plan.

This statement will also be submitted to the independent examiner.

Paragraph: 042 Reference ID: 11-042-20150209

Revision date: 09 02 2015 See previous version

Will the environmental report have to be amended if modifications to the neighbourhood plan are proposed at examination?

The independent examiner of a neighbourhood plan is testing whether the plan meets (or can be modified to meet) the basic conditions and will make recommendations to the local planning authority. The local planning authority will then reach its own view, informed by the examiner’s report.

If the local planning authority assesses that the proposed changes are likely to have significant environmental effects which were not previously assessed then the strategic environmental assessment should be continued and the environment report amended accordingly in consultation with the qualifying body.

Paragraph: 043 Reference ID: 11-140306

Revision date: 06 03 2014

What information should be provided following the making of a neighbourhood plan?

Regulation 16 of the Environmental Assessment of Plans and Programmes Regulations 2004 sets out the requirements of the local planning authority once the neighbourhood plan has been made.

Paragraph: 044 Reference ID: 11-044-20140306

Revision date: 06 03 2014

Does the local planning authority have to monitor the significant effects of implementing the neighbourhood plan once it has been made?

Monitoring the significant effects of the implementation of a neighbourhood plan that was subject to a strategic environmental assessment should be undertaken (see regulation 17 of the Environmental Assessment of Plans and Programmes Regulations 2004). This will enable unforeseen adverse effects to be identified at an early stage and to enable appropriate remedial actions. The local planning authority should consider arrangements to monitor the significant effects of implementing the neighbourhood plan and reporting this issue in its Monitoring Report.

Paragraph: 045 Reference ID: 11-045-20140306

Revision date: 06 03 2014

Published 9 February 2015