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Planning matters

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What came first, the chicken or the EIA rEGGs?
The Court of Appeal has quashed a planning permission granted by Shropshire Council in 2017 for an intensive poultry farming facility near Bridgnorth in Shropshire. The fundamental question of the appeal was whether the LPA, when considering the application, failed to properly consider the likely effects of odour and dust arising from manure disposal. Reviewing this judgement has highlighted the consequences of approving an application which relies on an inadequate environmental statement (ES); and has also clarified the relationship of environmental permits to Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) planning applications. Context of the case On 1 September 2017, Shropshire Council granted permission for the erection of four poultry buildings at Footbridge Farm. The owner, also the applicant, intends to use the buildings for intensive rearing of poultry. The facility would operate on a 48-day cycle, rearing 210,000 chicks for 38 days and then cleaning the buildings to prepare for the next cycle. Roughly 1,575,000 broiler chickens would be reared over a year. This would produce approximately 2,322 tonnes of manure, which would be disposed of on the applicant’s fields, and any surplus would be spread on third party owned fields near to residential areas. The appellant is a local resident, Ms Squire, who lives about 300 metres from land on which manure might be spread. On granting planning permission, the Council concluded that the technical assessments submitted within the ES ‘are generally satisfactory’, and that ‘adverse impacts on local amenity can be satisfactorily safeguarded’. Additionally, the environmental permit issued and regulated by the Environment Agency (EA) would provide another level of control sufficient to address dust and odour issues. Following the High Court’s dismissal of the appellant’s claim for Judicial Review of the Council’s decision, Ms Squire appealed against the Judge’s decision on two grounds: The Judge was wrong to conclude that the environmental permit issued under Reg.13 of the Environmental Permitting Regulations would control the management of manure outside the site to which the permit is related; and The Judge was wrong to consider the development’s likely environmental effects had been assessed adequately and lawfully in accordance with the EIA legislation. Broiler chickens - source: Wikimedia Commons Summary of the judgement The Court of Appeal first addressed the interpretation and scope of the Environmental Permit, which would be a requirement for an operation of this scale. It held that there was no misunderstanding of the permit’s control, which clearly included removal of manure from the site and the EA would enforce this. The officers had simply misunderstood the role of a future ‘manure management plan’ (MMP) that was referenced in the EAs consultation advice letter as though it were an assessment to reduce the risk of pollution from manure disposal. MMPs are a requirement under the Environmental Permit Regulations (not under the site-specific permit) and must also comply with the statutory Code of Good Agricultural Practice. However, the EA had made clear in its letter that the MMP would only relate to the applicant’s land and would not control any issues arising from activities outside of the permit boundary (drawn around the chicken sheds only). More importantly, the MMP specifically relates to risks of polluting surface or groundwater – not odour and dust. Therefore, it cannot be assumed that in enforcing the site’s permit, the EA will provide additional control contributing to minimising effects of odour and dust outside the permit area. Manure spreading at a Welsh farm - source: Wikimedia Commons In relation to the soundness of the EIA, the Court considered that impacts on neighbouring properties, generated by odour and dust from manure disposal activities were indirect impacts of the proposed development therefore must be assessed through the EIA. However, the ES did not identify the third-party land on which the 1,500 tonnes of manure was going to be spread each year, nor did it attempt to provide a meaningful assessment of the likely polluting effects the manure spreading – either on the applicant’s land or any other land. The Court held that the requirement of an MMP to be produced in the future, was not a substitute for the lack of assessment in the ES, and therefore, the ES was deficient and not compliant with the EIA Regulations. The appeal was allowed, on both grounds. Lessons learned from this case Although the case’s poultry context may not be relatable to many, this decision is a reminder of the importance of ensuring that all EIAs clearly identify and fully assess all impacts of a development - direct and indirect. As the PPG states, mitigation measures are designed to limit or remove any effects of a development, consequently an ES cannot rely on mitigation to mitigate an effect that hasn’t been identified within the assessment. Furthermore, care must be taken to understand the scope, role and effect of any regulatory process, such as environmental permitting, that is considered within an ES. For instance, considering whether a permit can be relied upon as adequate mitigation, and whether mitigation is required beyond the regulatory boundary of such a permit. The appeal could perhaps also result in more thorough scrutinisation of generalised commitments which have become commonplace within ESs for similar developments, such as compliance with the Code of Good Agricultural Practice, or the fact that the process of manure spreading, as intended in this application, is common practice in farming of this intensity. Overall, we now know not to get over EGGcited when chickens are involved, as you should never hurry EIAs concerning slurry!

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Drones, airports and an already constrained airspace: are the latest government proposals enough?
Last week, for the second time in less than a month, flights at a major London airport were halted by drone activity. On 8th January flights out of Heathrow Airport were suspended for over an hour, following drone sightings. Between 19th and 21st December, the runway at Gatwick Airport was closed for nearly 36 hours after drones were reported over the airfield, with flights unable to take-off or land. At Gatwick, as the world’s busiest single-runway airport and on one of its busiest days of the year, there were estimates of 140,000 passengers that were due to use the airport being affected. The media, aviation sector and public have all watched with interest. Malicious use or otherwise, this is clearly a very serious ongoing issue whereby substantial drones have been used to bring about the temporary closure of two major international airports. Questions have been raised: why was it apparently so easy to shut a British airport with a drone, what controls are there to avoid it happening in the future, and can drones actually co-exist with existing operations in our airspace? To add to the drama, the Heathrow Airport drone sighting followed only days after announcements by the Secretary of State for Transport, Chris Grayling, of plans for further drone regulation.  In a previous blog of June last year, I set out the current policy and regulatory framework and explained new laws for drone operators. Announced in May 2018, the new laws came into force in part from July 2018 with the remaining provisions coming into force on 30 November 2019[1]. At the time of announcing the new laws, Government said that these new measures, alongside an upcoming draft Drones Bill, would be the first step in setting the UK on a path to be a global leader in the drones use, tackling misuse to build public confidence in drone technology and encourage positive, innovative drone use in the UK – stating ‘ensuring drones are being used safely will pave the way for the devices to play an increasingly important role in society, and demonstrating that the industry can operate safely will be key to its advancement’. So, what’s next for government to ensure this societal and safety objective – and within the context of these drone incidents? Last summer, Government published a consultation paper ‘Taking flight: the future of drones in the UK’, seeking views on proposed legislation regarding the use of drones. Government also released a Drones and Other Unmanned Aircraft Bill impact assessment. The consultation period ran from July to September 2018 and detailed a number of proposed policies, including: a minimum age requirement for operators for small unmanned aircraft; whether the 1km flight restriction around protected aerodromes is sufficient; proposals to mandate and regulate a Flight Information and Notification System (FINS) as part of future unmanned traffic management and airspace modernisation programme; the powers required by enforcement bodies in order to properly police drone use and penalise incorrect use; and counter drone technology system proposals. The consultation also looked ahead on how counter-drone technology could be used as a means of addressing the potential threat malicious misuse of drones can pose; and the estimated growth in numbers of commercial drones in the UK over future years. On 7th January, Government published its response to this consultation. The response outlined government’s decisions, in particular, to legislate to give the police greater powers to tackle drone misuse, including the power to issue on the spot fines, and to better protect airports by extending the area around airports and runways in which drones are banned. There will be new powers for the police to order an operator to ground a drone if it’s deemed necessary. The police will also be able to seize drone parts, to prove the drone has been used to commit a criminal offence. This all builds on the new laws announced last year. The Heathrow drone sighting occurred the day after this government announcement, reinforcing just how important these new measures are and the need to implement them into legislation as soon as practicably possible. By the end of the week, the Aviation Minister, Baroness Sugg met UK airport bosses to discuss the technology already in use and how airports can strengthen their defences. Government has now said that it is considering implementation of military-grade anti-drone equipment at all major UK airports, as well as other critical infrastructure such as power stations and prisons. However, cost will no doubt be an issue. In the aftermath of the Gatwick drone incident, it was reported that the airport installed a £1million protection system, comprising 360-degree radar and thermal imaging systems, as well as a radio jammer. An airport’s security ‘fence’ will no longer be just the standard 1.8m chain link fence around an airport boundary. While big airports like Gatwick and Heathrow may be able to meet the cost of several million for drone protection, smaller operators will not have that luxury, potentially simply shifting the problem to the places that are less able to deal with it. Are these plans enough? Until now, Government has followed a light touch approach and the only legislation that has so far been passed focuses on regulating the drone user. Will this latest round of proposed regulation, combined with that announced last year, provide sufficient checks and controls to mitigate against another Heathrow/Gatwick drone incident? The Aviation Strategy Green Paper consultation ‘Aviation 2050 — the future of UK aviation consultation’, which commenced in December 2018, and the House of Commons 2nd reading of the Drones (Regulation) Bill 2017-19, which is expected sometime this year, should build on this work to date. As drones continue to play an increasingly important role in our society there will be pressures placed on our airspace and there is a growing need to understand how current users and new users (drones and other unmanned aircraft) can co-exist, and co-exist in an already constrained environment. The potential of drone technology to aid the way we live, work and play is wide-ranging, offering so much more than solely a recreational application. The Heathrow/Gatwick incidents must not prejudice its future. What is certain is that regulation and policy must continue to play catch-up, and then in consultation with industry, anticipate innovations in advancing technologies; safety must continue to be its focus. This includes aerodrome safeguarding and facilitating an airspace that can benefit all. Failure to do so will likely lead to another airport shutdown, or at its worst, a major aviation disaster.   [1] http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2018/623/contents/made Announced 30 May 2018. In force in part from 30 July 2018 with the remaining from 30 November 2019, in an amendment to the Air Navigation Order 2016 (The Air Navigation (Amendment) Order 2018.  

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