EIA and the masterplanning process

2nd November 2011

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Adrian Keel from Broadway Maylan describes the benefits brought by environmental impact assessment (EIA) in the design process

The EIA process has two primary functions: to analyse and explain a major planning application and to enable the planning authority to make a good decision.

Many of my clients regard the preparation of an EIA as a time consuming and expensive burden. In response, I explain it is an integral part of the design process and will assist them in preparing a robust, sound and sustainable proposal that will enhance the value of their investment.

A well-managed EIA process will deliver a well-designed solution that looks good, has a sound policy justification and responds positively to the range of environmental considerations to which it is relevant. The resulting environmental statement needs to be well presented in order to support and explain the planning application effectively.

For a planning authority the main benefit of EIA is in the clarity of the application and the presentation of supporting information. When determining a major application planners are required to assimilate and understand the diverse and detailed range of information that accompanies complex proposals.

The EIA process provides a framework for the presentation of a substantial package of highly technical information. For the applicant, it is important to consider those who have to read their environmental statement and to present the information as clearly as possible.

It is clear that EIA is an aid to the determination of major planning applications. In order to make balanced and informed decisions, planning authorities require increasing amounts of information. In the future it is likely there will be a requirement to adopt a similar streamlined process for smaller applications not currently subject to EIA.

As planning consultants within a firm of architects we coordinate many EIAs and sit at the interface between EIA and the design process. We work closely with our colleagues within the masterplanning teams and recognise the importance of EIA as a design tool.

The design process as an export

While we can all name poor planning decisions, the British planning system is generally rightly regarded as highly successful. One of UK plc’s strongest skills is the management of a large, expanding and culturally diverse community on a tiny, overcrowded island.

Creating and maintaining a high-quality environment is the result of a complex political and environmental management system and the quality of our planning system and its associated design and decision-making processes is a key USP for the UK.

The opportunities to provide masterplanning and EIA skills to developing nations represent an important export opportunity.

The planning policy framework – the first principle of the design process

The role of the planning consultant is to promote their client’s proposal, be it a cement works, high-speed rail link or an extension to an existing settlement.

Consultants provide clients with advice regarding the promotion and prospects for a proposal. The planning application with its EIA is the culmination of many months, and usually years, of preparation and consideration. In this regard a sound planning policy basis for the proposal is essential.

Regional planning in UK is apparently being dismantled in favour of localism. By implication under this system it is going to make it harder for those promoting and undertaking developments to identify future opportunities.

A strong clear regional planning system, rather than ad hoc local planning, is essential for well-structured growth. We are part of a global economy that is going to become ever more competitive, but a fast decision is not necessarily a good decision. Developers need a clear planning system in order to make investment decisions. The importance of regional planning to the design process should not be overlooked.

The masterplanning process

The creation and delivery of a successful masterplan requires an in-depth knowledge of planning, the construction procurement process and a collaborative approach to stakeholder engagement in order to realise an implementable development. A successful masterplanning project is delivered in key stages in which stakeholder participation and EIA are integral – see diagram below.

EIA and an Integrated Masterplanning Process:
EIA and an Integrated Masterplanning Process - Click to enlarge

Masterplanning teams manage large and complex projects, and need to provide focused project leadership. They need team players who work with complementary organisations and offer clients a comprehensive service including property, engineering and niche professional advice.

Broadway Malyan have a long track record in this area of work and regularly use design charettes and workshops to move projects forward in an open forum with a group ethos. This dialogue is frequently undertaken in the context of the EIA process.

The relationship between EIA and masterplanning

EIA should be regarded as an integral part of the masterplanning process. By bringing the key disciplines together at the start of a project, the team can properly understand the baseline position, rather than make flawed assumptions.

An effective masterplan is one that provides the basis for an implementable result and this requires an integrated team approach.

The EIA is a tool to communicate the design solution, and, when properly managed, it is a beneficial part of the masterplanning process.

This article was written as a contribution to the EIA Quality Mark’s commitment to improving EIA practice. To discuss the themes raised by the article with other environmental professionals visit IEMA’s LinkedIn group.

Adrian Keel is the associate director of Broadway Maylan


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