Bridging the post-planning gap

16th July 2015

Related Topics

Related tags

  • Management ,
  • Built environment ,
  • Planning ,
  • Construction


Neil Kirk

Alistair Walker at Waterman Group discusses how implementation of planning conditions could be improved.

Academic literature (see links below) has long advocated that post-planning follow-up should be an integral part of EIA practice. However, planning conditions, section 106 agreements and unilateral undertakings are currently the only mechanisms for ensuring the delivery of mitigation commitments proposed in an environmental statement. But this process is not always efficient. While the legal controls in place are strong and well established, their implementation is fallible.

Key issues include:

  • change of responsibility from pre-planning to post-planning;
  • lack of ownership and responsibility for implementing and monitoring post-planning mitigation measures; and
  • lack of public sector resources and guidance.

EIA professionals are usually only retained during the pre-application and pre-determination stages. They are not generally there to provide advice or to audit how effective the mitigation measures have been while a project is built or after completion.

Equally, contractors or future owners may not have been involved in the pre-planning stage, and can find themselves tied into onerous conditions that are not cost-effective or practicable, but which were deemed necessary to secure planning permission. Their perspective and requirements may not have been incorporated into the scheme.

Local planning authorities (LPAs) are obliged to sign-off the discharge of conditions. However, enforcement of the appropriate implementation of post-planning measures is inconsistent, and with LPAs' resources often stretched, this option is not always proportional or achievable. Where enforcement action is taken, it is often the result of an LPA responding to notification that a planning condition is not being complied with, rather than through the proactive enforcement of planning controls.

So what's the solution?

The retention of EIA professionals during the project implementation and post-completion phases will not solve the problem on its own. Effective change management is needed. However, simplifying the transition and having the correct mechanisms in place between the pre-planning to post-planning teams streamlines the process. This reduces the potential for misinterpretation or poor implementation of mitigation measures after handover.

Commitments registers, method statements, environmental management plans and mitigation action plans are some of the tools that can be used to aid the process of change management. These should be required by condition or could be volunteered by the project team.

Government also has a key role to play. While not a panacea, the amended EIA Directive (2014/52/EU) enforces monitoring of significant adverse effects. Member states have a three-year period to adopt these principles.

Although there are no relevant amendments to UK legislation at this stage, it is likely that we will see increased post-planning monitoring by condition as LPAs seek to implement the change. However, responsibility for implementation is not yet defined and it is unclear whether the costs will fall with the developer, owner or the LPA.

In summary, while EIA has developed over the last three decades to become a powerful framework for environmental assessment, weaknesses still remain - to achieve sustainable outcomes mitigation measures must be controlled through condition or a legal mechanism, and the adherence to post-planning conditions must be enforced.

However, this is not often achieved owing to a breakdown in communication in the development team and lack of enforcement. The execution of these post-planning commitments should be fully monitored, communicated and acted upon in order to inform future projects. New EU regulation is now creating this stimulus; however the majority of LPAs lack the resources to perform this function. With no government guidance currently available, it is unclear who will be the responsible for carrying out monitoring.

Morrison-Saunders, A., & Arts, J. (2012). Assessing impact: handbook of EIA and SEA follow-up.

Morrison-Saunders, A., & Arts, J. (2004). Exploring the Dimensions of EIA Follow-up. Impact Assessment for Industrial Development: Whose Business is it? 24th Annual Meeting of the International Association of Impact Assessment. Vancouver: IAMA.

Marshall, R., Arts, J., & Morrison-Saunders, A. (2005). International Principles for Best Practice EIA Follow-up. Impact Assessment and Project Appraisal 23 (3), 175-181.


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