EIA scoping process works, research shows

7th March 2015


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John Macnamara

Non-key issues are being successfully scoped out of environmental impact assessments (EIAs) for major infrastructure projects, according to an analysis by consultancy Aecom.

Aecom studied the EIAs for 15 nationally significant infrastructure projects (NSIPs) that have received government consent. These vary from a rail freight terminal in Daventry to large offshore wind farms.

Impacts on traffic and landscape were included in all of the environmental statements (ESs) that were analysed. Archaeology and cultural heritage, ecology, geology and ground conditions, and noise were each covered in all but one of the project applications. But other topics were considered in far fewer applications. Impacts on climate change and sustainability, marine mammals and nature conservation were each reviewed in five or fewer projects.

The ES for Hornsea offshore wind farm off Yorkshire had 25 chapters covering technical issues, the highest number in the sample. The Willington C Gas Pipeline near Burton-on-Trent had the fewest, with only eight. Marine-based infrastructure generated the largest ESs, most likely due to projects having both onshore and offshore components, the consultants believe. ESs for projects that are solely onshore have 10-12 technical chapters.

Laurence Copleston, EIA coordinator at Aecom, said the findings were interesting in the light of government claims that applicants are undertaking some technical assessments unnecessarily to avoid legal challenges. “Scoping is a fairly effective process and robust enough to remove topics if they are not required,” he said.

However, NSIPs cover many sectors so it is difficult to judge conclusively if any ES is too big, he added.

In a statement to parliament last week, communities and local government minister Brandon Lewis reiterated the government's belief that environmental impact assessments were "gold-plating" European policy. He said: "This increases the workload of developers, local planning authorities and the consultation bodies, adding cost and creating delays. There is currently confusion about when they are required, leading to gold-plating of the directive by local authorities and developers."

This article was written using data from a submission to IEMA's EIA Quality Mark programme. You can read the full article here.


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