Environmental statement reviews - how does yours measure up?

7th September 2016

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  • Business & Industry ,
  • Built environment ,
  • Planning ,
  • Management


Sean Woods

The importance of ES reviews and IEMA's QMark accreditation, by Alison Carroll, associate environmental planner and Jonathan Murphy, professional environmental planner, at Nicholas Pearson Associates.

With council budgets being stretched and the revised EIA directive requiring competent experts to prepare or review environmental statements, where are councils getting this expertise from?

EU Directive 2014/52/EU amends directive 2011/92/EU on the assessment of the effects of certain public and private projects on the environment. When transposed into UK law it will introduce a requirement for developers to ensure that the EIA report (previously known as the environmental statement, or ES) submitted with their planning application is prepared by competent experts, which should give some assurance as to its completeness and quality. There will also be a requirement for the competent authority to ensure that it has, or has access to, sufficient expertise to examine the report.

Current procedures for submitting and evaluating EIA applications are set out within the government’s online planning practice guidance on EIA .

This chart, taken from the guidance, demonstrates that the current procedure involves consulting statutory consultees and informing persons of interest and the public of the application. The local planning authority (LPA) then asks whether sufficient information has been supplied and considers comments received on the EIA report. It provides no further guidance on how to determine whether sufficient information has been submitted. This is left for the local planning authority (LPA) to determine.

With the resources of LPAs and statutory consultees increasingly stretched, will sufficient expertise be available to adequately examine EIA reports? Furthermore, many LPAs only deal with one or two EIA reports a year, limiting the amount of experience available.

Historically, LPAs could turn to IEMA for an independent review of the quality of ESs, however this service is no longer provided. Outside LPAs, the review of ESs tends to fall to environmental consultancies.

As EIA QMark registrants, Nicholas Pearson Associates undergoes an annual review of an ES to ensure that it meets IEMA’s standards. Our QMark status also reassures LPAs of our capabilities when they ask us to undertake ES reviews. In turn, we have also had our ESs reviewed by other QMark consultants. The process of reviewing ESs and being reviewed is extremely valuable in ensuring that we continue to evaluate what we do and maintain our standard of work.

Our experience, from both sides of the review process, constantly reminds us of the importance of meeting the requirements of the EIA regulations, providing clear and accurate information and ensuring consistency across disciplines in terms of the information presented regarding development proposals and their effects.

We have also seen from both sides how the review process can result in the need for substantive clarifications or formal requests for further information. Providing further information can be costly and considerably extend the determination period of an application. In some instances, applications may need to be withdrawn and resubmitted to address issues raised during the ES review and wider consultation process.

However, when we have reviewed ESs that have been re-submitted, the benefits of going through the process are generally quite evident. Information that had previously been missing, inadequate or unclear has either been provided or clarified. There are also times when the need for such further information is challenged and reasons put forward for why these details are not reasonable to require, or not available. This is also a valid part of the process as we can all have different professional opinions and different levels of understanding of the information presented.

The key role of ES reviews is ultimately to ensure that sufficient information is available to decision-makers to ensure that they can adequately take into account the environmental effects of proposals. It is clear from the reviews we have been involved in that sufficient information is not always being submitted first time. Once the revised directive is implemented, with its additional assessment requirements, the challenges to review and judge the adequacy of EIA reports will grow, as will the need for competent reviewers.

Past reviews conducted by NPA have identified quite a degree of variability in the quality of ESs. Two recent reviews concerned onshore wind farm developments of a roughly similar scale for the same LPA. While both submissions benefited from a substantial amount of survey work, one was much more comprehensive and thorough. Accordingly, NPA only requested points of clarification. For the other ES, eight separate requests for further information under regulation 22 were recommended. It is interesting to note that the more comprehensive ES was undertaken by an EIA QMark member. In this instance the application of the QMark criteria clearly ensured the quality and robustness of the ES.


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