Assessing the urban environment

30th April 2015

Istock 000019068280 lar fmt

Related Topics

Related tags

  • Construction ,
  • Management


Paul A Reed

Towns and cities pose specific challenges when conducting environmental impact assessments, argue Bidwells' James Alflatt and Neil Waterson

Environmental impact assessment (EIA) tends to be high on the agenda for many developers, a position secured by the risk of possible delays from legal challenges. In an urban setting, development has potential for significant impacts on people, which bring specific challenges for assessments. As a result, there is often greater public interest in such projects.

The role of a competent EIA expert appointed early in the process can assist in delivering a robust and proportionate approach to EIA, and will save time and money in the longer term. There is huge benefit in having planners as EIA coordinators since they are often central to project coordination, and can add value in identifying political and planning sensitivities. They will also understand the control mechanisms in the planning process to ensure mitigation measures are viable, deliverable and can be sufficiently monitored by planning conditions and legal agreement.

In most cases, urban projects are likely to involve redeveloping previously built-on land. Although they may have less impact on the natural environment, their possible proximity to high numbers of people and other urban uses can have significant impacts.

Important issues

Issues of likely concern include increased traffic and noise as well as poorer air quality. For residential developments, existing residents and service providers are likely to be concerned that more people moving into the area will adversely affect access to doctors, dentists and schools. Heritage issues may also be more common due to a greater number of listed buildings and conservation areas in towns and cities.

Many of these issues will be addressed at least partly at the planning application stage in the case of urban developments. However, the requirement for EIA raises the bar, not only as to the scope and detail required, but the need to deliver what has been assumed in the environmental statement.

Equally, proposals for urban developments will often offer measures that will result in benefits for local people, whether in terms of housing, jobs, or recreational or community facilities. It is important that the EIA considers these benefits and sets these against any adverse impacts. In that way a balanced and informed picture of the effects of the scheme on the community can be provided.

On a constrained urban development, the ability of developers to mitigate impacts onsite may become increasingly difficult, making it essential to identify acceptable solutions offsite. These may include financial contributions secured from the developer and delivered through the planning process.

Communication is key

A further challenge lies in identifying the impacts against those perceived by the local community. To smooth the process, these can be addressed through public consultation early in the planning process.

The consultation should be seen as an opportunity to help inform the EIA and the evolution of the proposals, so that adverse impacts can be identified and avoided or minimised through design measures. When done effectively, the communication will help to limit the level of rumour and temper the popular perception that the scheme will work to the detriment of the local population and area.

Competent EIA experts will have the knowledge and ability to communicate the beneficial impacts and stress the positives from the scheme, and set these against other planning and political sensitivities.

Increasing requirements

The EIA challenges associated with developments in towns and cities are likely to increase with forthcoming changes to the EIA Directive, which will place more onerous requirements and obligations on developers and planning authorities. It may be some time – but spring 2017 at the latest – before these requirements are transposed into UK regulations, so the changes may not immediately have a direct impact on development projects.

Of more immediate concern will be the changes to EIA screening thresholds, which came into force at the start of April and exempt many smaller sites. Under the changes developers will no longer have to go through the screening process if a site is smaller than five hectares or 150 homes. However, the higher density of residential development in towns and cities will mean that in many cases the 150-dwelling threshold will apply and an EIA be necessary, irrespective of the site area. Demand will therefore continue for competent EIA practitioners with experience of developments in an urban environment.

James Alflatt and Neil Waterson are partners at Bidwells, an IEMA EIA Quality Mark accredited company.


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

Transform articles

Advice note on health impact assessments

An advice note on health impact assessments and health in environmental assessments is set to be published by IEMA soon.

31st May 2024

Read more

IEMA’s Impact Assessment Network is delighted to have published A Roadmap to Digital Environmental Assessment.

2nd April 2024

Read more

Lisa Pool on how IEMA is shaping a sustainable future with impact assessment

27th November 2023

Read more

IEMA responded in September to the UK government’s consultation on the details of the operational reforms it is looking to make to the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIP) consenting process as put forward in the NSIP reform action plan (February 2023).

24th November 2023

Read more

Members of IEMA’s Impact Assessment Network Steering Group have published the 17th edition of the Impact Assessment Outlook Journal, which provides a series of thought pieces on the policy and practice of habitats regulations assessment (HRA).

26th September 2023

Read more

In July, we published the long-awaited update and replacement of one of IEMA’s first published impact assessment guidance documents from 1993, Guidelines for the Environmental Assessment of Road Traffic.

1st August 2023

Read more

Are we losing sight of its intended purpose and what does the future hold for EIA? Jo Beech, Tiziana Bartolini and Jessamy Funnell report.

15th June 2023

Read more

Luke Barrows and Alfie Byron-Grange look at the barriers to adoption of digital environmental impacts assessments

1st June 2023

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