Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) – What and Why

21 Aug 19

Aside from being a statutory requirement, the EIA process itself is a useful tool in assessing the environmental feasibility of a project, and it provides an opportunity to demonstrate ways in which the environment can be improved through development.

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Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) has a bit of an image problem, with many perceiving it as a complicated, expensive and time-consuming process which causes more problems than it solves – but is this really the case?

Aside from being a statutory requirement, the EIA process itself is a useful tool in assessing the environmental feasibility of a project, and it provides an opportunity to demonstrate ways in which the environment can be improved through development.

What is EIA?
EIA is a systematic way of assessing the likely significant impacts arising from a development through an inter-disciplinary process that objectively assesses the environmental and social impacts of a scheme. The findings of an EIA are reported in an Environmental Statement (ES) which typically comprises three volumes: Non-Technical Summary (NTS), the Main Text, and Technical Appendices.

Why is EIA important and how can it help?
The protection of the environment is an important issue with pressure on developers to demonstrate that projects are compliant with increasingly stringent environmental policies at the local, regional and national levels.

The purpose of the EIA process is to inform decision-makers – local authorities, statutory consultees and the general public – of the environmental impacts (both positive and negative) of implementing a project and complement the wider planning process rather than frustrate it.

The first critical stage of EIA, the screening of a development, determines whether a project is EIA development or not. Notably, whilst a large number of developments will trigger the need to undertake the screening process, (approximately 2,750 EIA screening opinions are issued in the UK annually) only a small proportion require an EIA to be undertaken.

The scope of an EIA varies on a case-by-case basis and considers a broad range of social and environmental topics. Through early engagement with the design process EIA offers opportunities to identify environmental constraints early on and to provide innovative and effective solutions to address these as part of the pre-application process, and thereby reducing the likelihood of significant negative effects and potential challenges once the application is submitted.

Clients have also found EIA to be useful in highlighting the benefits of a scheme. The NTS in particular can be an effective marketing tool as it summarises the findings of the EIA using non-technical language to aid understanding.

Key messages
The EIA process can be complex and frustrating, but it doesn’t have to be. When used in an effective and proportionate manner it can be extremely useful in advertising the benefits of a development scheme and demonstrating a balance between social, economic and environmental impacts.

Where developments cannot be screened out from having to undertake an EIA, Iceni seeks to ensure that ESs communicate a clear, concise message that is accessible for both stakeholders and decision makers of what the true impacts are likely to be.

If this affects a scheme you’re working on or you have any queries in relation to the EIA, Iceni’s Impact Management Team would be happy to assist.

Eilish Smeaton Director,Impact Management,Planning

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