EIA update with IEMA's Josh Fothergill

6th March 2015

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A round-up of the latest key developments in EIA.

Call for mandatory fracking EIAs fails

The government has rejected an amendment to the Infrastructure Bill requiring mandatory environmental impact assessments before hydraulic fracturing (fracking) for shale gas or oil can start. The bill, passed on 11 February, includes a requirement that planning authorities take account of the environmental impact of a development, but does not insist on a compulsory EIA.

The government had earlier accepted several amendments to the bill put forward by the Labour Party, including that any hydraulic fracturing cannot take place unless an EIA has been carried out. The House of Lords rejected this addition before sending the bill back to the House of Commons for consideration.

In the Lords, Baroness Verma argued that the amendment was not legally viable and “simply would not work in practice”. She said a secretary of state would only grant consent if they were satisfied that conditions had been met, including that the environmental impact of the development had been taken into account by the planning authority. Energy minister Amber Rudd reiterated this point in the House of Commons. The government clause states that permission will not be granted for any shale gas operations unless the local planning authority states that “environmental information was taken into account” in deciding the application.

Shadow energy minister Tom Greatrex said that the government’s proposed clause stopped short of a full commitment to an EIA. He argued that individual notification would be impractical.

EIA practice update with IEMA’s Josh Fothergill

IEMA’s impact assessment network officially kicked off with its first steering group meeting on 20 February. The network’s aim is to further improve current good work around EIA, increase coverage of wider impact assessment areas and to empower members to identify priorities for action. The steering group will act as the catalyst to help drive the direction of impact assessment related activity (iema.net/policy-impact-assessment).

EIA practitioners with 10 or more years experience will remember the excitement generated by the introduction of strategic environmental assessment, but it has failed to deliver regularly on its potential. However, 2015 could see the beginning of a renewal. The European commission will begin a second review of the Directive, with policymakers indicating a desire to refresh the legislation and improve delivery. Meanwhile, Oxford Brookes University is hosting a conference on SEA (1–2 June), which will bring practitioners together to share views (planning.brookes.ac.uk). SEA is also the topic of one of this year’s annual Scottish government forums. Its latest newsletter (gov.scot/Resource/0046/00469784.pdf) provides details and includes a note on ecosystem services in SEA.

From May the monthly Quality Mark webinar will be rebranded impact assessment webinars. This will mean that every other webinar will cover a subject beyond UK EIA. Forthcoming webinars:

  • 26 March: GLVIA3 – two years on.
  • 30 April: IEMA’s noise guidelines – six months on.

Ecosystems and EIA

Ecosystem services (ES) are not being effectively incorporated into assessments, finds research published in Environmental Impact Assessment Review. The researchers reviewed five environmental and social impact assessments (ESIA) reports for mining, hydroelectric and transport infrastructure projects in Africa, Asia and South America. In all cases, ecosystem services were included in the assessments to meet a requirement of the International Finance Corporation’s performance standards on environmental and social sustainability. However, in only three cases were most of the tasks recommended by current guidance adopted and, although all the reports included a dedicated chapter or section on ES, there was no evidence in three that the ecosystem services analysis was integrated in impact assessment. By contrast, in the two ESIAs that followed the guidance, ES analysis resulted in specific mitigation measures.

Bats and wind farms

A study in Environmental Impact Assessment Review examines the mitigation hierarchy to reduce impacts from new wind farms on bat populations. It presents new guidelines on compensation when negative impacts remain after avoidance and minimisation measures have been taken. Although the conservation strategies outlined are developed for Europe, the authors say they are applicable elsewhere if the specifics of each region in terms of local bat populations, landscape features and policy on nature and biodiversity conservation and management are considered. An analysis of potential opportunities and constraints from implementing offset or compensation programmes, and gaps in the current knowledge, are also considered.

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