IEMA sets six tests for environmental impact assessment reform

7th October 2020


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Author

Rachel Mitford

IEMA has published six tests that must be met to ensure that reforms to environmental impact assessment (EIA) regulations deliver a system that is both proportionate and effective.

“Too often EIAs are unfairly blamed for a variety of failings that do not stem from the EIA process, ranging from proposals being out of line with policy or local requirements, poor decision making or political interference,“ said Rufus Howard, IEMA's policy lead for impact assessment.

“Reform of the EIA process should, therefore, focus on where improvements can be made – overblown reports running to thousands of pages hinder understanding, and a move to proportionate EIA is long overdue.“

IEMA's six tests include:

1. Governance on scoping non-EIA development: Reforms should set standards for the 99.9% of developments that currently fall outside the provision of EIAs, including defining a consistent mechanism for ensuring that the requirements and mitigation of projects are implemented.

2. Publish clear requirements and standards for EIAs: Reforms should redefine EIA as a design tool for plan making and design coding, a delivery mechanism for net gain, and a means of delivering effective scoping.

3. Ensure Environmental Management Plans (EMPs) are central to the EIA process and provides certainty on implementation: EMPs should be the one stop shop that brings together all design and mitigation requirements and ensure quality. The EMP then focuses on post-construction monitoring, thus ensuring better implementation.

4. Appraise the role of a national EIA Unit: Reforms should consider the benefits of a National EIA unit in order to build certainty and confidence by reducing the need to reinvent the wheel, reduce timescales and reduce the risk of legal challenges.

5. Embrace innovation and digital EIA: Reforms should move EIA to digital submissions with improved use of interactive mapping to clarify impacts. A national data hub should be considered to increase accessibility and share industry intelligence.

6. Competence in EIA: Reforms should acknowledge EIA as a specialist area of expertise, ensuring that leading practitioners bring their experience in preparing EIAs, and using them correctly in the decision-making process. Training needs to be improved.

The tests come in in response to the ongoing government consultation on 'Planning for the Future', and in advance of an anticipated autumn consultation on EIA reforms.

“At its best, EIA is critically important for making decisions based on sound scientific and legal advice, ensuring that the environmental and social impacts for a proposed development are fully understood,“ Howard continued.

“EIA is a practical means of achieving sustainable development and good design. It can build confidence that risks can be managed, and stated benefits and quality assurances can be delivered.

“IEMA's key tests, if met, will provide the foundations for improvement without risking the benefits that come from a process that is practiced successfully in over 100 countries around the world.“

Image credit: iStock

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