The aim of an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is to protect the environment by ensuring that a consenting authority, when deciding whether to grant permission, does so with all the details of the likely significant effects on the environment, and takes this into account in the decision-making process. An EIA also ensures that the public is given early and effective opportunities to be involved in the decision-making procedures.
Assessments are sometimes called ESIA (where the ‘S’ is related to possible ‘social’ risks) and are often required for projects that might be funded internationally.
Consenting authorities may include in-country Town Planning authorities/committees, UK planning authorities or Secretary of State Planning Inspectorate. An EIA/ESIA is most usually required for Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIPs in the UK) or may be needed for certain types of planning applications authorised at a regional level.
There are five broad stages to the assessment process:
Determining whether a proposed project falls within the remit of the regulations, whether it is likely to have a significant effect on the environment and therefore requires an assessment. ‘Screening opinions’ or ‘directions’ may be sought from the consenting authority.
Determining the extent of issues to be considered in the assessment and reported in the Environmental Statement. The applicant can ask the consenting authority for its opinion on what information needs to be included (which is called a ‘scoping opinion’).
Preparing an Environmental Statement
If an assessment is required, or is volunteered by the applicant, the applicant must prepare and submit an Environmental Statement and follow relevant EIA guidelines.
Making a Planning Application and Consultation
The Environmental Statement (and the application for development to which it relates) must be publicised electronically and by public notice. The statutory ‘consultation bodies’ and the public must be given an opportunity to give their views about the proposed development and the Environmental Statement.
The Environmental Statement, together with any other information which is relevant to the decision, and any comments and representations made on it, must be taken into account by the consenting authority, in deciding whether or not to grant consent for the development. The public must be informed of the decision and the main reasons for it (both electronically and by public notice).
Focus on Scoping
We recommend that the scoping exercise be undertaken early in the planning stages of a project. It provides an opportunity to incorporate positive environmental enhancements into the project and enables risks to be considered early on during project design evolution and to avoid or minimise negative environmental impacts.
A scoping report sets out:
- The nature and purpose of the development
- Any environmental issues and effects to be considered in the EIA
- How the effects will be assessed and documented in the Environmental Statement
- What information will be used and needed for the assessment
- Any critical gaps and uncertainties in the information and how they will be accounted
- Methods for surveys and assessments
- Criteria that will be used to determine significance of effects
- Any environmental effects that may not be considered further, and any reasons for this
There are several reasons why scoping should be carried out.
- It is usually a mandatory requirement for a compliant and robust EIA
- It identifies key issues to be addressed
- It helps to identify additional project opinions
- It reduces risks, and saves time and money later on in the project programme
- It identifies mitigation measures and enhancement opportunities
- It minimises requests for further information at a later stage in the EIA process, and potentially avoids judicial review
- It identifies likely significant effects to be accounted for.
The Benefits of Scoping
A developer may choose not to request a scoping opinion from the competent authority. Instead, they may decide to consult directly with all interested parties to identify concerns and measures in order to rectify them at a stage when changes can more easily be worked into a project design.
Regardless of whether scoping is carried out informally or formally through a scoping opinion, facilitating such a proactive approach should enable projects to run more smoothly and limit objections and risks at a later stage.
What Should be Included in a Scoping Report?
To carry out effective EIA scoping, it is important to start the process early, as this can avoid the potential for unnecessary work, or work being carried out using different methods to those preferred or required by officers and consultees. Early scoping can also help avoid extra cost and time implications for the applicant, planning authorities and consultees.
The following issues are usually included:
- A brief description of the project including any timescales, ancillary features (such as pipelines or highway improvements), plans/maps/photos to aid description of the site and the proposal
- Feasible alternatives and others that have been discounted
- Strategic background, for example, development plans and other related projects
- List of stakeholders and how they might be involved in the EIA process
- Methodologies to be adopted for the assessment of each issue
- The extent of the study area considered for each issue
- The time horizon for which predictions are made
- Key environmental constraints and opportunities
- Likely key impacts, both positive and negative
- Gaps in information; Proposed further surveys; Preliminary mitigation and enhancement measures; Proposed EIA programme, including timescales and milestones
Other Issues to Consider
It can be useful to discuss the project and the proposed EIA methodology with consenting authority officers and consultees before the scoping request is submitted. This can help ensure they understand the project and the likely significant environmental impacts before a formal scoping request is submitted.
It’s possible to speed up the scoping process by asking officers to send copies of consultees’ responses as they arrive so that queries can be dealt with promptly.
EIA scoping is a continuous process and should be updated as findings or circumstances change, especially as EIAs can be undertaken over a long period of time.
The level of consultation should be proportional to the potential significance of the project’s impacts. This will be related to the location, nature, scale, and perceived importance of the project.
Scoping is an important part of the EIA process and when scoping a project, developers, or their consultants, should satisfy themselves that they have addressed all the potential impacts and the concerns of all organisations and individuals with an interest in the project.
It is a complex area of the EIA process and one that we are experts in at Engain. To find out more about how we can support you, contact us on 01225 459564 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
To discuss your project requirements, please contact our experienced team