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THE ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT ASSESSMENT – You’ve found your dream home and you’re ready to sign on the dotted line. Before you do, there are a number of regulations you need to be aware of, and a few criteria you need to meet.

This issue, we look at the EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) element of the development planning process. A compulsory requirement of the Planning Act 2004, this currently applies only to those who have purchased land with a view to develop on a medium- to large scale.  However, small-scale developers should pay close attention as legislation is being drafted to ensure an EIA is carried out at all levels. It should be noted that all proposals for building and development require approval from the Town and Country Planning Department (TCP) before building can commence as a matter of course.

What is an Environmental – Impact Assessment?
According to www.wikipedia.org, an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is an assessment of the likely human environmental health impact, risk to ecological health, and changes to nature’s services that a project may have.

To broaden the definition, and raise the significance of the three elements under assessment, we should understand that:

Environmental health includes both the direct pathological effects of chemicals and biological agents on health and wellbeing of the environment’s inhabitants. It covers the broad physical, psychological, social and aesthetic environment including housing, urban development, land use and transport.  Furthermore, nutrition and drinking water supply, pollution, waste control and public health are integral aspects of environmental health. When the well-being of a population is measured, these become economic and political concerns.

Ecological health refers to symptoms of an ecosystem’s (the assemblage of organisms living together with their environment functioning as a loose unit) pending loss of carrying capacity and its ability to perform nature’s services.

'Nature’s services’ is an umbrella term for the ways in which nature benefits humans, particularly those benefits that can be measured in economic terms.


Any alteration you make to your surroundings will have an environmental impact, whether it is a matter of installing a storm drain or whether you are clearing scrub in preparation of laying down your foundations.

The Ground Rules

Given the amount of development proposed for Tortola’s East End, a recent TCP presentation to the public, designed to assist with understanding of the EIA process, was a timely reminder that the scope of a project and the implications it may have should be
public information, and the members of the public are entitled to respond with their concerns.  No concerns are considered irrelevant.  The presentation stipulated:

  • •    EIAs have been required for major projects since the 1969 Virgin Islands Physical Planning Act was passed.  In 2004, the 15th amendment of this act was passed, stipulating the statutory responsibility to the Planning Authority for managing any of the EIA processes.
  • •    One of the main differences between an EIA process and other statutory assessment processes is that all government agencies and the public have more opportunities to comment upon how a project is assessed and, if approved, how it should be managed.
  • Management of development of the land falls under the auspices of the 2004 Physical Planning Act, part IV, section 26 which states, most importantly (it is advised that applicants read the section in full):
  • •    Unless the Authority otherwise determines, environmental impact assessment shall be required in respect of any application for development permission to which Schedule 3 applies (see side bar).
  • •    The Authority may also require environmental impact assessment of any development, where it is of the opinion that significant adverse environmental impact could result.
  • •    On receipt of any application for development permission, the Authority shall determine whether environmental impact assessment of the proposal is required having regard to
  1. the nature of the development activity proposed;
  2. the geographical extent, scale and location of the proposed development;
  3. the extent and significance of the changes to the environment likely to be caused by the proposed development;
  4. the extent of general knowledge about the nature of the proposed development and its likely impact on the environment;
  5. any development plan for the area;
  6. any other matter as may be prescribed.

In order to assist with the lengthy environmental impact assessment, TCP are currently drafting an environmental screening form.  The form asks the developer, be they building a single family dwelling or a multi storey hotel complex, to describe some basic information about their planning proposal.  The information will be used to determine the environmental risk category of the project, which will in turn determine whether the proposal requires an EIA, and if so, at what level.


  1. Hotels of more than twelve rooms;
  2. Any industrial plant which in the opinion of the Authority is likely to cause significant adverse environmental impact;
  3. Quarrying and other mining activities;
  4. Marinas;
  5. Airports, ports and harbours;
  6. Dams and reservoirs;
  7. Hydro-electric proj
  8. ects and power plants;
  9. Desalination plants;
  10. Water purification plants;
  11. Sanitary land fill operations, solid waste disposal sites, toxic waste disposal sites and other similar sites;
  12. Gas pipeline installations;
  13. Any development projects generating or potentially generating emissions, aqueous effluent, solid waste, noise vibration or radioactive discharges;
  14. Any development involving the storage and use of hazardous materials.
  15. Coastal zone developments;
  16. Development in wetlands, marine parks, national parks, conservation areas, environmental protection areas or other sensitive environmental areas.

For more information on the EIA, or information pertaining to the planning process and permissions, please contact:

Town and Country Planning Department
Office of the Chief Minister
33 Admin Drive
Road Town, Tortola
T: 284 494 3701 ext. 2158

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