Basics of Sustainability. Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA)

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1 Basics of Sustainability 8 Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) 1

2 Contents Page Aims... 2 Introduction... 3 The Objectives of EIAs... 3 Developments that Require an EIA... 4 Key Stages of an EIA... 6 Bibliography and Further Reading... 9 Aims On completing this module, candidates should be able to: Have a better understanding of Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) as a systematic process. Understand the key objectives for EIAs. Understand the functions and requirements of EIAs. Have greater awareness of the legal framework of EIAs. Develop an understanding of the EIA process for UK planning decisions. 2

3 Introduction The UK Government defines Environmental Impact Assessments as a means of drawing together, in a systematic way, an assessment of a project s likely significant environmental effects. An EIA therefore is a process to examine the environmental consequences of a development or project, and to provide information to those responsible for making the planning decisions. The term 'environmental impact assessment' describes a procedure that must be followed for certain types of project before they can be given development consent. EIAs were first introduced in the USA under the Environmental Policy Act (1969). Since then it has both evolved itself and branched into a variety of offshoot assessments that evaluate a number of impacts, such as those on biodiversity, human health, and local communities. Most countries have introduced formal EIA regulations and associated regulatory bodies that specify when and for which developments an EIA is required, and procedures and processes that are to be followed. An EIA provides the local planning authority with better information about certain types of project, which enables them to make a more informed decision about whether planning permission should be granted to a development. In addition, it allows the planning authority to impose conditions and obligations on the developer to mitigate possible negative impacts. Preparing an EIA is vital, but can involve a considerable amount of work. It is therefore advisable for developers to enter into early consultation with the local planning authority to determine whether an EIA will be required, and if so, what it should contain and what methodology should be used to carry out the necessary assessments. The Objectives of EIAs An EIA enables environmental factors to be given due weight, along with economic or social factors, when planning applications are being considered. In doing so, it promotes a sustainable pattern of physical development and land and property use in cities, towns and the countryside. If properly carried out, it benefits all those involved in the planning process. The overall objectives of an EIA are to: Incorporate environmental information into the planning decision-making process; Identify the beneficial and negative environmental impacts of a proposed project; Suggest mitigation measure to reduce or prevent adverse impacts; and improve the overall design of the project from an environmental perspective; Identify and describe the residual impacts which cannot be mitigated; Identify appropriate monitoring strategies to track impacts and provide an early warning system ; Facilitate informed decision-making, including setting the environmental terms and conditions for implementing the proposal, and aid the selection of alternatives. The aim of these objectives is to assess whether a project meets the criteria of wider environmental legislation in order to: 3

4 Achieve sustainable development; Avoid irreversible changes and serious damage to the environment; Safeguard valuable resources, natural areas and ecosystem components; Enhance the social aspects of proposals; Protect human health and safety. Developments that require an EIA Many developments ranging from domestic buildings, commercial or industrial buildings or mixed schemes require planning permission before they can proceed. Planning permission decisions must take into account many, often conflicting, requirements which can be characterised as social, economic or a combination of any or all. EIAs are a tool developed to help planners make appropriate decisions when sensitive environmental issues are involved. There are two reasons why an EIA might be carried out by a business seeking planning permission for a new development or project: Legal requirements that determine when an EIA is mandatory and when one might be required in certain circumstances; Environmental Management System (EMS) requirement to assess environmental aspects and impacts. The first step of an EIA is to determine whether or not a project requires an EIA by law. The main legislation is the Town and Country Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) (England and Wales) Regulations The Regulations contain five schedules: Schedule 1 describes projects for which an EIA is mandatory. Schedule 2 describes those for which an EIA is necessary only where there is likely to be a significant environmental impact. Schedule 3 contains selection (or screening) criteria to which a decision maker must have regard when deciding on whether an EIA is necessary. Schedule 4 identifies information for inclusion in Environmental Statements. Schedule 5 identifies the previous statutory instruments revoked. Schedule 1 project examples include: Trunk roads and motorways Airports Railway lines 4

5 Power stations, power lines, long distance oil & gas lines Land drainage improvements Ports and harbours Marine fish farming Oil refineries Large dams and reservoirs Large scale installations for incinerating waste Schedule 2 projects are judged on their significance which includes the following criteria: Major developments which are of more than local importance Developments which are proposed for particularly environmentally sensitive or vulnerable locations Developments with unusually complex and/or potentially hazardous environmental effects e.g. paper mills, industrial parks, golf courses etc. The Town & Country Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations 2011 now replace Town & Country Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) (England and Wales) Regulations 2009, but only for England. Since the 1999 Regulations came into force they have been amended on several occasions to take account of case law and amendments to the EIA directive. If an applicant is uncertain about whether an EIA is required, they can ask the local planning authority for a decision called a screening opinion. They can also ask the local planning authority for advice about the required contents of an EIA; this is called a scoping opinion. If the applicant disagrees with these opinions, they can appeal to the Secretary of State who will then make a decision. 5

6 Key Stages of an EIA Once the need for an EIA has been determined, the process includes the following: Fig. 1: Key stages of an EIA Screening Screening is carried out in order to determine whether or not a development project proposal will require an EIA. EU Directive 85/337/EEC lists a number of selection criteria that should be taken into consideration when screening a development project proposal for an EIA. These include development characteristics, characteristics of location, and characteristics of potential effects. Scoping Key issues that the EIA will address are identified during the scoping stage. Such issues that are identified in the majority of EIAs include: landscape and visual; ecology; land-use; traffic and transport; air quality; noise; water; ground conditions; archaeology; cultural heritage. A good scoping process will involve consultation with relevant stakeholders and interested parties to provide them with information on the proposal and what the key issues are, and to find out what their key concerns are. In addition, the scoping process will include an analysis of the issues identified during consultation to determine which are likely to be significant and therefore must be included within the scope of the EIA, and negotiation with the decision-makers and other interested parties to refine the scope of the EIA. 6

7 Impact Analysis In order to identify and analyse the likely impacts of a development project proposal, the baseline environmental conditions must be established. This can be done by either using already existing information or collecting new information. Impact analysis involves characterising the impact in terms of its likely nature, spatial and temporal distribution, duration, frequency, reversibility, and magnitude. A judgement must then be made as to whether the impact is likely to be significant or not. Mitigation An impact analysis will identify a number of significant environmental impacts relating to a project development. This stage of the EIA aims to put in place mitigation measures in order to avoid, reduce and if possible reverse them. Environmental Statement (ES) The environmental statement is the vehicle used to communicate the results of the EIA to the decision-maker and other stakeholders in the development process. The developer provides the local authority planning office with an ES which details the main environmental impacts of a project and any mitigating measures which are proposed to reduce the significance of those impacts. By law the ES must contain at least: A description of the project comprising information on the site, design and size of the project. A description of the measures envisaged in order to avoid, reduce and, if possible, remedy significant adverse impacts. The data required to identify and assess the main effects which the project is likely to have on the environment. An outline of the main alternatives studied by the developer and an indication of the main reasons for this choice, taking into account the environmental effects. A non-technical summary of the information mentioned in previous bullet points. From the developer's view, the preparation of an ES in parallel with project design provides a useful framework within which environmental considerations and design development can interact. Often, an organisation s own EMS will influence a project s environmental impacts. With an ES, it is now possible for the project to be modified to avoid possible adverse effects. Taking these steps is likely to make the formal planning approval stages run more smoothly. The general public's interest in a major project is often expressed as concern about the possibility of unknown or unforeseen effects. By providing a full analysis of a project's effects, an ES can help to allay fears created by lack of information. At the same time, early engagement with the public when plans are still adaptable can enable developers to make adjustments which will help to secure a smoother passage for the proposed development and result in a better environmental outcome. 7

8 Decision Making This is the stage in the process where the project development is either granted development consent or not. It is necessary at this stage for the ES to be made available to a number of statutory consultees. Statutory consultees with an interest in the ES include: The principal local authority or planning authority for the area Environment Agency Natural England Scottish Natural Heritage Countryside Council for Wales Council for Nature Conservation and the Countryside (Northern Ireland) Other third parties who may have an interest are extremely wide-ranging and dependent on, among other factors, the type, impact and size of the project. These include, but are not limited to: Health and Safety Executive (HSE) Coal Authority Department for Communities and Local Government (CLG) Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) Department of Transport (DfT) English Heritage Once the consultation process is complete, opinions and concerns will be recorded and incorporated into the EIA. The ES must then be considered by the competent authority in deciding whether to give consent for the development, and the public will be informed of the decision to approve development consent or not. The authority is required to determine a planning application which is the subject of an EIA within 16 weeks from the date of receipt of the ES, unless the developer agrees to a longer period. As with any other planning application, the planning authority may refuse permission or grant it with or without conditions. If the project is granted consent, monitoring and measuring of environmental impacts of the project will commence. This must be carried out by the developer and any conditions of consent must be adhered to. Assessments can be carried out by relevant bodies such as the local authority and Environment Agency at any point during the project to ensure compliance with the planning permissions and all relevant legislation to the project. 8

9 Bibliography and Further Reading Carroll, B., Turpin, T., Pearson, N. (2002) Environmental Impact Assessment: A practical Guide for Planners p. 21 London: Thomas Telford Ltd Department for Communities and Local Government (2006). Environmental Impact Assessment: Guide to Procedures European Commission (2001), Guidance on EIA Screening The Town and Country Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) (England and Wales) Regulations 1999 [internet], available from: (Accessed 6 June 2012) 9

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