Are non-technical summaries non-technical?

11th October 2012


Related Topics

Related tags

  • Local government ,
  • Construction ,
  • Consultancy ,
  • Business & Industry ,
  • Stewardship

Author

IEMA

Kyle Welburn, from WSP Environment & Energy, describes how an "interrogative" approach can ensure that non-technical summaries (NTS) are living up to their name

The Town and Country Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations require the assessment of environmental effects to be reported in both an environmental statement and in a NTS document, to ensure that all interested parties can be fully informed of the implications of proposals prior to granting development consent.

The NTS is a key document because, as IEMA states in recent guidance, it “informs the reader of the findings of the assessment and consults them on the decision to be taken” and is therefore crucial in effective pre-application engagement.

Current practice

The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Directive stipulates that a NTS should include information on the proposed development, the key findings of the EIA, proposed mitigation measures and the alternatives considered. However, with limited guidance on how to approach this document, numerous formats, with a variety of styles have been adopted.

With this in mind, it is not surprising that these documents are often highlighted as one of the weaker areas of EIA. Furthermore, as a summary of the environmental statement, it is usually one of the last documents to be completed before submission because it has to contain information from all technical chapters and is often a document on which less emphasis is placed.

To address this, earlier this year IEMA published a short briefing note and has created an online library of NTSs. These tools can be used by EIA practitioners and should help to establish best practice and standardise the quality of summaries being prepared.

A new approach?

Based on the guidance available, WSP are now beginning to use an interrogative approach to the preparation of NTSs, such as the one for Project Dove. This method incorporates the required information about the proposed development, alternatives considered and key effects, but presents it through a series of questions and responses.

The benefits of this approach include the production of a document that is focused on the environment issues that matter most to the audience who will be reading it. The questions posed are based on queries and the main issues brought up by the general public during consultations undertaken during the EIA process. This also can allow the document to concentrate on potentially more significant effects while reducing the space given to those that are less insignificant.

The interrogative approach removes the potential inclusion of unnecessary and detailed information, by focusing on the topics that stakeholders have concerns about and providing concise answers to the questions set.

The use of questions also limits the amount of “copying and pasting” from the main body of the environmental statement and ensures the author considers the information and how best to present it. The approach, therefore, ensures a succinct summary of the key environmental information from the statement and reduces the length of the document, making it more accessible to both decision makers and the general public.

Furthermore, this interrogative method lends itself to the incorporation of visualisations, such as photomontages, in response to questions set out such as: “I live on X street, can I see the development?“ This can significantly aid understanding of what the development proposals will look like, and can be tailored to show the views from particular locations and local landmarks, providing interested parties with a tangible and engaging way to understand the development.

However, there are also challenges in using this approach, including the additional time required to present technical information in non-technical language and in an “answer” format, particularly with regard to areas such as air quality and acoustic effects which require complex language to describe the assessment of the significance of effects.

Discussion of local historic or landscape assets, which are often highly prized by the local community, but are considered to be of low value or importance, can also be difficult to write and need to be sensitively approached.

As a document which is crucial to effective engagement and in helping stakeholders to understand the potential effects of development proposals, NTSs need to be what they say they are.

Despite the additional time required to produce interrogative style NTSs, this approach can have significant advantages in furthering stakeholders understanding of developments.


This article was written as a contribution to the EIA Quality Mark’s commitment to improving EIA practice

Kyle Welburn is a senior consultant at WSP Environment &Energy

Subscribe

Subscribe to IEMA's newsletters to receive timely articles, expert opinions, event announcements, and much more, directly in your inbox.


Transform articles

EU and UK citizens fear net-zero delivery deficit

Support for net zero remains high across the UK and the EU, but the majority of citizens don't believe that major emitters and governments will reach their climate targets in time.

16th May 2024

Read more

There is strong support for renewable energy as a source of economic growth among UK voters, particularly among those intending to switch their support for a political party.

16th May 2024

Read more

Despite cost-of-living concerns, four-fifths of shoppers are willing to pay more for sustainably produced or sourced goods, a global survey has found.

16th May 2024

Read more

One in five UK food businesses are not prepared for EU Deforestation Regulation (EUDR) coming into force in December, a new survey has uncovered.

16th May 2024

Read more

Each person in the UK throws a shocking 35 items of unwanted clothes and textiles into general waste every year on average, according to a new report from WRAP.

2nd May 2024

Read more

Taxing the extraction of fossil fuels in the world’s most advanced economies could raise $720bn (£575bn) by 2030 to support vulnerable countries facing climate damages, analysis has found.

2nd May 2024

Read more

The largest-ever research initiative of its kind has been launched this week to establish a benchmark for the private sector’s contribution to the UK’s 2050 net-zero target.

2nd May 2024

Read more

Weather-related damage to homes and businesses saw insurance claims hit a record high in the UK last year following a succession of storms.

18th April 2024

Read more

Media enquires

Looking for an expert to speak at an event or comment on an item in the news?

Find an expert

IEMA Cookie Notice

Clicking the ‘Accept all’ button means you are accepting analytics and third-party cookies. Our website uses necessary cookies which are required in order to make our website work. In addition to these, we use analytics and third-party cookies to optimise site functionality and give you the best possible experience. To control which cookies are set, click ‘Settings’. To learn more about cookies, how we use them on our website and how to change your cookie settings please view our cookie policy.

Manage cookie settings

Our use of cookies

You can learn more detailed information in our cookie policy.

Some cookies are essential, but non-essential cookies help us to improve the experience on our site by providing insights into how the site is being used. To maintain privacy management, this relies on cookie identifiers. Resetting or deleting your browser cookies will reset these preferences.

Essential cookies

These are cookies that are required for the operation of our website. They include, for example, cookies that enable you to log into secure areas of our website.

Analytics cookies

These cookies allow us to recognise and count the number of visitors to our website and to see how visitors move around our website when they are using it. This helps us to improve the way our website works.

Advertising cookies

These cookies allow us to tailor advertising to you based on your interests. If you do not accept these cookies, you will still see adverts, but these will be more generic.

Save and close