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Overview of the Environmental Assessment Process

Environmental assessment of projects is based on a coordinated package of assessment mechanisms, applied by MEPA’s Environment Protection Directorate (EPD) in a systematic logical order; the resulting outcomes are fed into the development permitting/control process which is managed by the Planning Directorate.

 

 STEPS IN ENVIRONMENTAL ASSESSMENT OF PROJECTS

 

 1

 PRELIMINARY ENVIRONMENTAL VETTING   

 2

DETERMINATION OF PRINCIPLE

  • Policy filter
  • General Environmental Compatibility

 3

 TECHNICAL SCREENING

 4

 FORMAL ASSESSMENTS

 5

 DELIVERY OF EPD INPUT

 6

 POST-DECISION FOLLOW-UP

1. PRELIMINARY ENVIRONMENTAL VETTING i.e. is the project environmentally relevant?

When considering development applications, the EPD first establishes whether the impacts of a particular project are of environmental relevance. If no, then there is no need for further EPD involvement.  If yes, the next filter below is applied, also ensuring that the information supplied is adequate to enable further processing.

2. DETERMINATION OF PRINCIPLE i.e. is the project potentially acceptable?

If the project is considered to be of environmental relevance, the EPD officer then carries out a technical assessment to determine whether the development is generally acceptable in principle or otherwise, taking into account the relevant policy context, site context, applicable environmental legislation, and the environmental implications.

Depending on the subject/nature of the proposal, other units within EPD are consulted through a coordinated reply reflecting all environmental concerns and forwarded to the case officer within the Planning Directorate (PD). If the project is found not to be acceptable in principle, this information is communicated as a negative recommendation to the Case Officer within the PD, whereas if it is generally or potentially acceptable in principle, the EPD officer applies the next filter.

3. TECHNICAL SCREENING i.e. does the application need to be subjected to further studies / permitting procedures (e.g. EIA)?

If no unacceptable environmental damage is identified, the proposal is formally screened against legally established criteria to determine whether they qualify for mandatory formal assessments, such as Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), Appropriate Assessment (AA) and various Environmental Permitting Instruments. If unacceptably environmental damage is identified, then this is communicated as a negative recommendation to the Case Officer within the PD.

4. FORMAL ASSESSMENTS

  • Formal assessments include:
  • Environmental Impact Assessment;
  • Appropriate Assessment;
  • Ad hoc studies (in some instances, specifici detailed sutdies may be required to arrive at a decent conclusion, e.g. an investigation of the site's geotechnical stability);
  • Development-related environmental permit (this is a formal permit from EPD for one-off interventions related to the construction phase, e.g. uprooting of protected trees or dismantling of rubble walls); 
  • Operational-related environmental permit (this is a formal permit from EPD establishing the operational parameters that would need to be followed once the development commences, e.g. operational waste management arrangements).

If any of the above are required, the Case Officer within the PD is notified and the case is processed in line with the EIA Regulations, the Flora and Fauna Regulations (which regulate AA) and/or other environmental permitting regulations, as relevant.  

5. DELIVERY OF EPD INPUT

Whenever an application has completed steps 3 and 4 above, the EPD recommendation is drafted, containing:

  • input from the detailed assessment;
  • mitigation / compensation measures and any environmental planning obligations;
  • identification of any necessary permit conditions including any requirement of an operational permit after conclusion of the Development Control (DC) process and any necessary permit conditions;
  • any identified reserved matters and bank guarantees; and
  • and any disclaimer or clarifications as required.

If a formal assessment is carried out, and either this identifies unacceptable impacts or there is a persistent refusal of applicant to comply, the EPD recommend a refusal accordingly.

6. POST-DECISION FOLLOW-UP

Whether the permit is refused or granted, EPD input may still be required for follow-up including fall-back input in the event of any overturning of recommendation by the Development Control Commission (DCC), reserved matters, DCC or case officer query, and appeal. EPD follow-up may also be required for:

  • enforcement guidance; 
  • feedback from monitoring or operation permit; 
  • method statements for execution of works (e.g. construction management plan)

Natural Heritage Advisory Committee (NHAC) CONSULTATION

Part of the Environmental Consultation Process also includes consultation with the NHAC. This Committee is a body external to MEPA and its input is independent from the EPD input. Cases referred to the NHAC qualify for this consultation through a set of established criteria.