What is an EIA and what are the benefits?
An Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is a process designed to test and enable good decision-making about planning and consenting for new development. It’s based on the most relevant information about the environmental and social implications of a proposed development.
As a statutory environmental requirement, development proposals are assessed as to whether they require the environmental effects and mitigation to be publicly considered before consent can be given. Environmental Impact Assessment informs design, as well as consenting decisions, that range in scale from local planning applications (such as housing, commercial and industrial land use change) to large-scale infrastructure (such as major highways, railways, energy and renewable energy facilities, and large-scale public infrastructure schemes). It is normally carried out by experienced environmental consultants such as Engain.
At Engain, our environmental experts will follow four key steps to an EIA.
- Screening – answering the question ‘Is an EIA necessary?’ and providing good corroborating evidence
There are statutes and guidelines on how to assess if an EIA is mandatory or voluntary, and this important legal step helps to reduce the amount of EIAs applied for where they may not be required
- Scoping – finding out the environmental technical issues that require assessment.
This is a defining step of the EIA and looks at the proposed development aims, identifies the key environmental resources, consults with stakeholders, and pursues formal agreement with the consenting authority
- Assessment – measuring the effects of the proposals.
Working with technical experts to collect information and look into the possible impacts that could arise from the proposals, scrutinising the technical data and advising you on the options to minimise or avoid environmental effects. This process involves working very closely with design engineers and architects to achieve a more sustainable and innovative development proposal.
- Reporting – recording the EIA process. The results of the assessment are legally documented, and the measures mitigating the proposed development effects are clearly discussed.
Public participation and engagement with key consultation parties are not only statutory requirements, they also play a significant role in shaping the proposed development design. Critical information is drawn from site investigations, historic data and discussions with various public bodies to create a complete picture and the relative importance of environmental issues and concerns. Using environmental experts with proven experience in leading consultations and encouraging public participation will increase your confidence that information has been gathered from all relevant parties.
It’s key to have a team of technical experts who can carry out the various aspects of the assessment. Expertise and technical assessments are needed for a wide range of areas, such as:
- Air quality
- Archaeology and cultural heritage
- Biodiversity and ecology
- Climate change
- Community, recreation and tourism
- Landscape character and visual amenity
- Noise and vibration
- Traffic and transportation
- Water resources
- Waste and material resources
Finally, when the assessment has been concluded and the proposed design is agreed, the EIA process is reported in an Environmental Statement. These statements are used by the relevant authorities to make consenting decisions, are made publicly attainable, and affect any consenting conditions as well as future construction methods and/or design changes to the proposed scheme.
Where there may be challenges to, or uncertainty about, a proposed development, the Environmental Statement can be used as evidence of a thorough process to test against agreed environmental criteria and thresholds. At Engain, we have provided expert witness for planning inquiries, local plan inquiries and court cases, which in some instances has led to case law and changes in policy.
Over the past 20 years, and since the EIA Regulations were first introduced, test cases and guidelines have evolved for EIA projects, and EIA is now more highly effective than ever in positively influencing architecture and civil engineering design to include more environmental considerations. There have been lessons learnt to improve the effectiveness of the EIA process and quality of Environmental Statements.
There are many benefits of using EIA if your planning project requires this approach. They help to clarify the key environmental issues that should really be considered in development proposals, and they provide quality information for local stakeholders, communities, and authorities to aid decisions. While they’re not always the best tool for all types of developments, a qualified and experienced environmental consultancy like Engain can advise you according to your own situation.
To discuss your project requirements, please contact our experienced team