June 28, the Attorney General put a stop to one improper planning application - and found more proposals have already passed without the required Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs).
The Land Planning and Development Control Authority (LDCA/Authority) was to decide whether to allow Connect St. Helena, Ltd. to run a sewage pipeline down the length of one of the island’s most vital landmarks during the Planning Authority meeting June 28.
The meeting came after almost two weeks of media attention, which publicised the fact that Connect’s proposals (2016/136-138) had not followed legal planning proposal process.
Chief Planning Officer Riana de Wet, who is married to Connect applicant Leon de Wet, spent the first hour of the meeting combating the media attention that proposals 2016/136-138 had received.
During her hour-long speech, Riana de Wet said the actions of the Authority (which is a body of appointed members) are supposed to be based on the Land Planning and Development Control Ordinance of 2013.
She moved on to talk specifically about how the environmental report for proposals 2016/136-138 – which was listed in the June 22 Sentinel and in David Taylor’s January recommendation as insufficient – never needed to meet requirements as the application was just an outline application.
“The Heritage Society objects to these proposals because of it’s effect on listed buildings and structures in a conservation area. In January, the Authority debated this extensively and of course it made the decision, at the time, unanimously, that the heritage society- in order to protect heritage of the island not just for now but the future, it would appeal to you to uphold that decision. I would also say that perhaps if you don’t feel that you can, maybe the best decision is to recommend refusal.”
- Heritage Society Member Andy Pearce
“Now I just want to make something clear: the applicant submitted the application documents[...] but on top of that, they’ve submitted this documentation - and this one says ‘Environmental Assessment Report,’” Riana de Wet said. “It doesn’t say ‘Environmental Impact Assessment.’ It was never meant to be a feasibility design report. It was never meant as [an] EIA, and that was understood right from the very beginning in the Planning Office, it was understood as such from myself. Completely unnecessary, really, for the outline planning application - we wouldn’t have required that.”
However, this statement gave the Authority trouble.
Berbotto asked the Authority if the applicant had submitted an EIA with the proposal, and if not, why there was a document from the Authority that stated a “detailed Environmental Impact Assessment has been prepared and the main findings of that report are here.”
“No,” Riana de Wet said. “There was not [an EIA]. There was a technical support documentation. In other words, the application didn’t say, ‘we submit this outline planning with an EIA report.’”
Berbotto then asked the public to leave the room so he could give legal advice to the Authority. Andy Pearce, who is a long-term St Helenian resident (and typically the sole member of the public in attendance at Authority meetings), said this was the first time he’d seen an LDCA meeting break for legal counsel.
Just over 40 minutes later, the public was let back into the room.
“The Authority after discussion has decided [the proposal] requires an EIA and we propose to adjourn these proposals until the EIA is filed with the Authority,” announced LDCA Chairperson Ethel Yon.
“The ordinance provides for two distinctive processes, the outline application and the full application. The documents that you provide for the outline application need to be proportionate to that type of application. In an outline application, you will not be required to provide the level of detail that you would a full application because the aims are different. With an outline application you can not start building something, where with a full application you can. Again, I haven’t read the actual documents filed, it may be that if the name is changed and is easily identifiable as an Environmental Impact Assessment, it may be that the document doesn’t need major reworking or reformatting.”
– Attorney General Angelo Berbotto
The Attorney General added to Yon’s statement.
“Section 19 and 20 of the Ordinance [requires that] when there is an application, an EIA accompanies the application,” Berbotto said. “It doesn’t say whether there is a full application or outline, so my legal reading of this is that regardless of what type of application, [an] EIA needs to be filed.”
Connect applicant Leon de Wet then spoke up; it was at this point it became clear the LDCA had passed other planning proposals unlawfully: If a proposal lacks a proper EIA, the Authority is not supposed to accept the proposal for review.
“I think I’m right confused now, because just a year ago, it was so easy for an outline application for a sewage plant in Rupert’s,” he said. “There was no such requirement then, where did this come now from? Riana just mentioned earlier that an application was submitted recently for the burial site in Rupert’s – was there an EIA submitted with that?”
Berbotto replied to Leon de Wet.
“I cannot vouch for how other people interpret the Ordinance, but I can tell you that my interpretation, because of my qualifications and my role in government, should be taken as authoritative,” Berbotto said. “And my reading of the Ordinance is very clear - that an Environmental Impact Assessment needs to accompany the application[...] it says, actually, any application.”
Riana de Wet had mentioned earlier in the meeting that the Authority was clear a full EIA had not been submitted. Additionally, David Taylor’s Jan. 26 recommendation, which the Authority was unanimously in favour of in January (but which Berbotto confirmed was improperly worded and therefore invalid), stated that the environmental assessment submitted by Connect was not up to standard.
However, both the applicant and Authority members said they were confused as to why “only the title” of the environmental assessment was holding the proposals back.
“It’s just unfortunate that the document didn’t have the word ‘impact’ written on it,” LDCA member Paul Hickling said. “I read through the whole thing assuming that was an EIA.”
“That’s a shame,” said Yon. “I thought it was an EIA.”
Near the close of the meeting, Vince Thompson of The Independent and Sarah Pitts of Six Months a Saint asked if the Authority would have a legal obligation to review other applications – such as those in Rupert’s Valley – which had passed without the required EIAs.
The Authority chose not to answer the question, but Berbotto suggested an appeal to the decisions in question, by members of the public, might be the best way to ensure process review.
Connect consented to adjourn. The Attorney General asked the Applicant and the Board to revisit these proposals through proper process; reasonable time to submit a proper EIA, a 28-day advertisement period and documentation of public consultations.