Embedding Environmental Principles in Development Design – a barrier or an opportunity?

14 Apr 21

A recent consultation on the proposed revisions to the NPPF seeks to strengthen environmental objectives and ensure these are given equal weighting to their social and economic counterparts. Whilst the language surrounding environmental considerations has been bolstered, these revisions also firm up the need to not see the environment as a standalone consideration, but one that should be embedded into each stage of the development process.

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We have all heard the phrase ‘There is no Planet B’, so how do we protect ‘Planet A’?

Environmental activist Greta Thunberg has recently said: “The climate crisis has already been solved. We already have the facts and solutions. All we have to do is wake up and change”. However, time is ticking, and it is going to take a tremendous collective effort to implement these changes.

We are all aware of the environmental consequences of development and every day environmental professionals face the same challenge: how to balance our understanding of these consequences against the needs of our clients and the communities which will benefit from development projects.

So, how can we, the planning and development industry, do our bit to help? How can we use current practices to better reflect and embed environmental values and instigate change?

The sustainability debate is nothing new and has been the backbone of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) since its initial publication in 2012. Furthermore, nearly 75% of UK councils have declared a climate emergency demonstrating increasing awareness of the challenges and yet the UK still seems to be struggling to deliver truly sustainable development and meet sustainability targets, particularly where environmental objectives are concerned.

A recent consultation on the proposed revisions to the NPPF seeks to strengthen environmental objectives and ensure these are given equal weighting to their social and economic counterparts. Whilst the language surrounding environmental considerations has been bolstered, these revisions also firm up the need to not see the environment as a standalone consideration, but one that should be embedded into each stage of the development process, from allocation of sites for development as part of the local plan process through to the construction and operation of new development schemes if environmental targets are to be met.

The planning system is currently supported by a range of processes to consider the environmental impacts of plans and projects, including Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) / Sustainability Appraisals (SA) at the plan level, and Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) at the project level. Whilst these assessment methods have a reputation for being complicated, expensive, time-consuming and creating barriers to development plans and projects, if used proactively, these can actually create more opportunities.

Too often environmental assessment is perceived as a separate element of work from the architectural and engineering design, and specialists are often engaged late in the process and presented with a largely completed scheme to consider.

At Iceni, our Impact Management team seek to work with design teams early in the process to highlight potential risks and key environmental considerations and to use our knowledge to help embed environmental principles into the design of projects we work on. Our experience across a range of assessments, including EIAs, Health Impact Assessments and Socio-Economic Assessments, also helps us understand the multiple benefits nature-based solutions can bring, by not only contributing toward enhancing the natural environment and combatting climate change but also improving the health and wellbeing of communities and resulting in economic benefits in the long term.

If you would like to hear more about how environmental assessment can help with your projects, Iceni’s Impact Management Team would be happy to assist impact_management@iceniprojects.com.

Joanna Ready Senior EIA Consultant,Impact Management