EIA update/February 2015

2nd February 2015

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Priya-Lakshmi McQuaid

Assessment rules retained for GMOs

MEPs have voted to allow member states to restrict or ban the cultivation of crops containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) on their own territory.

Under the new legislation EU states will be allowed to ban GMOs on environmental policy grounds other than the risks to health and the environment already assessed by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

The legislation, which will come into force in the spring, retains the existing authorisation system, which involves the EFSA conducting a risk assessment to ensure the protection from GMOs for human health, animal health and the environment.

The rules will allow member states to ban GMO crops on other grounds, such as town and country planning requirements, socio-economic impact, avoiding the unintended presence of GMOs in other products, and farm policy objectives. Bans could also include groups of GMOs designated by crop or trait.

New EIA criticises Oxford flats

The publication of a retrospective EIA on a new student accommodation development at Castle Mill in Oxford has led to calls to remove the top floor of each block in the complex.

The EIA was commissioned by the University of Oxford after a High Court challenge and found the buildings had a high “adverse impact” on the local area, including Port Meadow, a site of special scientific interest, and the Oxford skyline. Mitigation measures in the EIA would cost around £6 million and include changing the colour of the buildings, and adding timber cladding and mature trees to the west side of the buildings. However, the proposal to reduce the height of the four- and five-storey buildings would remove 38 bedrooms, require all residents to vacate for a year and cost £12 million.

The university is set to present its proposals to the city council for consideration. Planning permission was granted in 2012 and the buildings have been occupied since September 2013.

Court condemns stadium plans

The High Court in Northern Ireland has ruled that the country’s environment minister acted unlawfully in approving the new 38,000-seat GAA stadium in west Belfast. Justice Horner identified failures in the EIA for the £77 million redevelopment of Casement Park.

The project would raise the capacity of the stadium from 32,600. The judge said the planning service at the NI department of the environment had failed under domestic and European law to make a proper assessment of the effect the increased capacity would have on the locality and road traffic network. He also highlighted in his judgment less serious errors by the department in its plans for dealing with Japanese knotweed and asbestos.

Around the world

Revised environmental protection legislation in China

The first major revision of laws in 25 years to protect the environment in China has come into force. The updated environmental protection law (EPL) contains 70 articles, compared with 47 in the 1989 legislation. The 2015 EPL raises the importance of conducting an EIA and increases the penalties for non-compliance. Article 19 states that an EIA is required for development plans and for construction projects that could affect the environment. Such plans and projects cannot be implemented or started unless an EIA is performed. Under the law, developers that start a project without an approved EIA can be fined and ordered to restore the site to its original condition.

EIA practice

Making scoping effective

In a new QMark paper, EIA experts at WSP encourage practitioners to approach the scoping phase differently to better meet the expectations of all the parties in the planning process and to reduce the scale of the environmental statement (ES). The study argues that, once EIA consultants have gathered further information about a scheme, they should give greater consideration to re-scoping with the aim of reducing the extent of the EIA. By scoping early, revising the scheme and then re-scoping, there is potential for the ES to be more focused and more readily understood by all parties, including decision makers. The art to good EIA consultancy is not the length of reporting, but the quality of the report, say the authors.


The design of mitigation

A successful design modification to mitigate a reservoir development’s environmental impacts is the subject of a QMark case study article available at environmentalistonline.com. Experts at Arup describe how the ecological and cultural heritage surveys for Bristol Water’s Cheddar Reservoir II uncovered evidence that, in the absence of mitigation, there could be significant negative impacts on a number of habitats and species. The authors discuss how interdisciplinary meetings between the project engineers, ecologists, heritage experts, hydrologists and landscape architects worked to integrate different mitigation requirements into revised designs for the project.


Integrating EIA and HIA

In a recent QMark article, MWH Global considers the implications of the revision of article 3 of the EIA Directive, which introduces human health into the assessment criteria.


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