EIA and BREEAM Communities

10th January 2014

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Richard Lomax

Juan Murray examines how the BRE assessment scheme can work with Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)

The purpose of EIA is to ensure that the potentially significant effects a development can have on the environment are considered in the planning application process. This includes impacts on natural resources, such as water, air and soil; conservation of species and habitats, as well as community issues, such as visual effects and impacts on the population.

It also provides a mechanism by which the interaction of environmental effects can be predicted, enabling developers to avoid or mitigate negative effects (as defined in Introduction to environmental impacts assessment by John Glasson et al, 2005)

BREEAM Communities, meanwhile, is a scheme developed by the BRE to “improve, measure and certify” the social, environmental and economic sustainability of large-scale developments by ensuring that sustainable design is integrated into the masterplanning process.

A complementary pairing?

EIA is required by legislation and the process is about prediction; practitioners predict the impacts based on experience and data collected throughout the assessment process. This is why EIA begins at the earliest stages when a project, including its alternatives, is being planned and designed, and should be an iterative process.

BREEAM Communities, meanwhile, is a voluntary assessment method, with a set structure that measures issues based on a weighting system designed by BRE. It is not required by legislation and cannot be used a substitute for EIA. However, it is a tool that can help in the decision-making process, providing guidance on sustainable development principles and design selection in large-scale residential, mixed-use and non-domestic developments.

The following table shows a selection of categories covered in both assessment methods:

BREEAM Communities categories

EIA categories

Social and economic wellbeing – local economy, social wellbeing and environmental conditions relating to health and wellbeing.

Socioeconomic impact – a key indicator being population increase or decrease, direct or indirect.

Resource and energy – to reduce carbon emissions and ensure wise use of natural resources.

Climate impact – predicted emission rates and air quality assessments.

Land use and ecology – to improve ecological biodiversity.

Ecology – information on ecology onsite and impacts on this through the complete development phase.

Transport and movement – to create an efficient and safe system for movement.

Transport – trip prediction rates pre, during and post development.

It is apparent that for many developments the EIA process and the BREEAM Communities assessment would cover similar topics although in a different manner. For example, EIA illustrates or predicts the effects of a development (or activity) that is likely to have a significant environmental effect, it then justifies how this effect can be mitigated against, through short, medium or long-term measures. BREEAM, on the other hand, sets targets at the beginning of the design process, in terms of a score that should be achieved, and then the design of the scheme (through a masterplanning process) ensures this score is obtained.

The effects of the assessment methods are also different. While EIA is a defensive tool, showing how the development imposes no significant effects that cannot be mitigated, BREEAM is a tool used for demonstrating the sustainable build quality of a development. They do appear to complement each other, however.

Combining the schemes

There is the potential to undertake an EIA and run a BREEAM Communities assessment in parallel. If done correctly and at a critical stage of both assessments, the work required to achieve a BREEAM certificate could be influenced by the outcomes of an EIA and act as a legitimate form of mitigation (for the EIA) with robust predicted effects – qualitative and quantitative.

EIA is sometimes accused of doing the minimum to achieve the desired planning consent. Linking the two schemes would result in a more robust outcome in terms of delivering a truly sustainable development. Mitigation measures could be monitored through the BREEAM post-construction stage assessment, for example. Mitigation monitoring is something that has been predominantly missing in EIA practice primarily due to cost.

An example of the benefits of this dual approach is the incorporation of waste material in landscaping bunds rather than removing it from the site. This would link the landscape and visual impacts of the development to a reduction in transport movements (reduced fuel consumption), helping to address resource, energy, carbon and air quality impacts covered in an EIA. Improved air quality then links to community benefits and socioeconomic issues. These benefits could feed into the BREEAM assessment and would not need to be regurgitated for separate individual assessments (such as CEEQUAL).

Incorporating design into the EIA process from an early stage through the first step of the BREEAM Communities process, “establishing the principles of development”, means that opportunities are not lost when it comes to the built stages of the development, resulting in a sustainable and carbon-efficient building which has been designed through a true lifecycle process.

Further work needs to be done and trial schemes run to determine the true benefit in combining the assessment methods, but on initial review tangible benefits seem achievable, particularly in terms of cost savings and delivering sustainable development in line with the UK’s national planning policy framework.

This article was submitted by WYG, a registrant on IEMA’s EIA Quality Mark scheme.

For further information or to discuss the content of this note, please contact Juan Murray, environmental planner at NJL Consulting at: juan@njlconsulting.co.uk

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