Within the planning process for a utility-scale solar facility (such as Enso Energy & EDF Renewables) there is a pre-application phase that considers something called an EIA, or in its full term an Environmental Impact Assessment.
This means that some developments are required to carry out an assessment that determines the likely level of impact that the development would have on the existing environment. It covers a broad range of topics, including:
~ Landscape & Visual
~ Amenity (Noise and Glint & Glare)
~ Agricultural Land
~ Flood Risk
~ Traffic & Access
~ Population & Human Health
~ Climate Change
~ Major Accidents & Disasters
The purpose of the EIA is to protect the current environment by ensuring that when a local planning authority are deciding whether to grant planning permission for a project, which is likely to have significant effects on the environment, that they do so in the full knowledge of these and takes them into account in the decision making process.
Not all topics are required to be included within the EIA, although accompanying reports are still needed. To confirm what topics are included the developers submit an “EIA Screening Opinion Request”. And an assessment is carried out to say whether the development would have a low or significant impact in the areas mentioned above.
As well as statutory consultees (organisations that are required to be personally notified of certain developments), members of the public are allowed to submit their own feedback on an EIA Screening Opinion. And this can be done through the Planning Portal, via email, and via post. It is a requirement of planning regulations that your full name and address are given with your feedback or it will not be accepted for inclusion.
Enso Energy’s EIA Screening Opinion
Enso Energy attempted to argue on 4th August 2020 that an EIA was not required. This was under planning reference DC/20/03320 on the Mid Suffolk Planning Portal. However the Planning Officer kindly told them “on the basis of the potential for significant cumulative impacts it is considered prudent to consider the proposal through EIA. Environmental Impact Assessment Required.”
Then they submitted their EIA Screening Opinion to Mid Suffolk District Council on 18th September 2020, this time arguing that they only need to include Landscape & Visual in the EIA. You can find it on the Mid Suffolk Planning Portal by searching for reference DC/20/04125.
Under the Documents tab you will find a list of submitted documents for this reference. The four dated 22nd September 2020 are the documents that Enso Energy submitted for review. You will also be able to see a document 20th October 2020 with a description “Flowton primary eia response”. This is a list of all the concerns our team were able to accumulate and articulate before the deadline (this was before we became CARE Suffolk). You will also find a whole host of public comments in the Comments section, of which is now closed for this pre-application stage.
On Monday 9th November 2020 the decision was issued, although we are still awaiting the decision letter to be uploaded to the Planning Portal.
Enso Energy’s EIA Screening Documents are where most of our information, and concerns, for the proposal have come from.
EDF Renewables’ EIA Screening Opinion
So EDF Renewables have gone about it a bit differently. Instead of submitting an application they called the Planning Office and asked. They were told that the assessment would most likely result in needing an EIA. Instead of arguing they accepted this, and went to work on their EIA Screening Opinion.
According to the second public webinar that EDF hosted on 11th November 2020, this will be submitted to the planning office late November. So until then, we’re afraid not a whole lot of actual detail is known about the EDF Renewables proposal. However it does mean you will have an opportunity to put your thoughts forward to the planning office for the pre-application phase when it becomes available.
Once the EIA Screening Opinion is completed it is up to the developer to do one of two things:
1. Decide not to pursue their development and so do nothing else in relation to the proposal.
2. Carry out the required assessments and submit their planning application.
We’re hoping they’ll decide on the first option. But for now we’ll be keeping an eye on the planning portal.