Environmental assessments for projects and plans


The environmental impact of certain projects, plans and programmes must be assessed before they can go ahead. EU legislation requires that EU member states complete an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIR) or a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) for certain projects, plans and programmes. An EIA is used to identify the environmental and social impacts of a proposed project before a decision is made about the project. An SEA is used to assess the environmental effect of a plan at public policy and planning levels.

What is an Environmental Impact Assessment?

EU member states must carry out assessments of the environmental impact of certain public and private projects before they are allowed to progress. The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process ensures that projects that are likely to have a significant effect on the environment, are assessed in advance, so that people are aware of what those effects are likely to be. The assessment must be carried out for certain projects including:

  • Motorways
  • Large scale developments in agriculture
  • Food industry developments
  • Chemical industry developments
  • Infrastructure and urban development

The full list of projects that need an EIA are listed in Annex I of the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive, as amended. Each Member State decides on a case-by-case basis, whether Annex II projects need an EIA. The Environmental Impact Assessment Directive has been amended and revised a number of times to bring it in line with subsequent European environmental policy. This EU legislation was implemented in Ireland by the Planning and Development Acts 2000-2020, as well as a number of Planning and Development Regulations and European Communities (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations.

Environmental Impact Assessment Report

When submitting a planning application for a development that needs an EIA, the applicant must also submit an Environmental Impact Assessment Report (EIAR). The regulations set thresholds above which an EIAR is required.

The local authority (or An Bord Pleanála) can ask a developer for an EIAR even if their development is below the thresholds. They will do this if they think the development is likely to have a significant effect on the environment. The full list of projects and threshold limits are set out in the Planning and Development Regulations.

The EIAR is drawn up by the developer and must contain an analysis of the likely effects (positive and negative), of a proposed development on the environment. This includes the likely effects on:

  • People
  • Flora
  • Fauna
  • Soil
  • Water
  • Air
  • Landscape
  • Cultural heritage

The EIAR also sets out how the developer proposes to deal with any negative effects. The EIAR must include a non-technical summary. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has published guidelines on the information to be contained in an Environmental Impact Assessment Report.

It is not possible to get outline planning permission for developments covered by the EIA. The notices about the application for planning permission must include the fact that an EIAR is available. The local authority’s weekly list of planning applications must also identify those applications involving an EIAR.

You may get a copy of any EIAR used in a planning application from the local authority or An Bord Pleanála. You may comment on an EIAR in the same way as any other aspect of a planning application.

The licensing system

If the planning application for a development requires an EIAR to be attached, then the EIAR must also be included in the application for a licence from the EPA. The local authority must notify the EPA of any planning application involving a development which needs an Integrated Pollution Control (IPC) licence. The EPA then has 5 weeks to comment on the application.

If the local authority decides to give planning permission for such a development, it cannot impose conditions relating to the control of emissions. This is for the EPA. It can, however, refuse permission on environmental grounds (even if the EPA is prepared to grant a licence).

What is a Strategic Environmental Assessment?

Public plans and programmes that are likely to have significant effects on the environment must have a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA). The SEA ensures that these plans and programmes are assessed for their environmental effect before they are adopted. The SEA Directive applies to a number of sectors including:

  • Agriculture
  • Forestry
  • Fisheries
  • Energy
  • Industry
  • Transport
  • Waste management
  • Water management
  • Telecommunications
  • Tourism
  • Land use planning

The SEA Directive (2001/42/EC) is implemented in Ireland by the European Communities (Environmental Assessment of Certain Plans and Programmes) Regulations 2004 (SI 435/2004) and the Planning and Development (Strategic Environmental Assessment) Regulations 2004 (SI 436/ 2004) as amended by SI 200/2011 and SI 201/2011.

This legislation implements the following aspects of the SEA Directive:

  • The review, preparation and variation of a development plan
  • The preparation or amendment of a local area plan
  • The review or making of regional planning guidelines
  • The making of a planning scheme in respect of part or all of a Strategic Development Zone (SDZ).

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) must be consulted on all plans and programmes that need an SEA, and at each stage of the SEA process. The EPA has published SEA resource and guidance documents, as well as detailed information about the SEA process.

Page edited: 26 November 2020