ECJ asked to rule on impact assessments

The European Court of Justice has been asked to decide whether modification of existing infrastructure at an airport needs a fresh Environmental Impact Assessment of the site.

European and national laws both dictate that projects, likely to have a significant effect on the environment, should be subject to an assessment of their effects on the environment.

Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA’s) are employed to identify, describe and assess the direct and indirect risks posed by the project to the environment. In a recent judgment, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has shed further light on the type of activities which require such an assessment.

The ECJ was asked, by the national Court in Belgium, to provide a preliminary ruling on matters concerning the interpretation of the EIA Directive (Directive 85/337/EEC).

The reference arose from proceedings pertaining to alleged noise pollution caused by an air freight centre at Liège-Bierset Airport in the Wallonia region of Belgium.

The Court was asked to consider whether an agreement between a public authority and a private undertaking in the form of a construction contract and works to modify the infrastructure of an existing airport could constitute a ‘project’ as defined by the Directive.

The ECJ held that although an agreement could not constitute a ‘project’, it was for the national court to determine whether such an agreement was in effect a development consent that formed part of the multi stage decision and implementation process.

In its ruling the ECJ also held that works to modify the infrastructure of an existing airport may be regarded as a modification of the airport itself and subject to an environmental impact assessment but, again, it was for the national court to establish whether the competent authorities had correctly assessed whether the works should be subject to an EIA.

Furthermore, it was stated that competent authorities must take account of the projected increase in the activity of an airport when examining the environmental effect of modifications made to its infrastructure.

The Judgment in case (C-02/07) is available via this link.

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