Pursuing excellence in EIA

25th October 2011

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As the government's plans to reform planning legislation charge forward, Sarah-Jayne Russell reflects on IEMA's work to improve environmental impact assessments

Last week the consultation on the government’s controversial proposed national planning policy framework (NPPF) drew to a close, and was swiftly followed by the launch of another into the Department for Communities and Local Government’s conclusions that scrapping existing regional development plans was unlikely to impact the environment.

The message from government is it sees the UK’s economic future as reliant on sustainable development at the local level. While many environmentalists may not agree with the government’s exact interpretation of sustainable development, it’s clear that environmental impact assessments (EIAs) will have an important part to play in ensuring the environmental sustainability of development projects.

Since its introduction 25 years ago, EIA has helped to ensure that more than 10,000 development projects in the UK have considered their impact on the environment.

Over that time EIA practice has improved and evolved, changing to better incorporate mitigation of impacts in design, for example, and through the development of the skills and knowledge of EIA practitioners.

However, as IEMA’s special report into EIA practice revealed earlier this year, there is still more to be done. There are opportunities for practitioners to better communicate the value of EIA, to work together to tackle problems and share best practice, and that is why IEMA has created its EIA Quality Mark initiative.

The scheme is for companies offering EIA services and provides them with the opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to improving their EIA practice. It also gives the EIA profession a chance to come together and debate the issues.

I was lucky enough to be invited to the first EIA Quality Mark forum earlier this month and got to see EIA practitioners from all sides of the sector come together to share their experiences and learn from each other.

Discussions ranged from the potential impact of the government’s streamlined planning policy and greater focus on biodiversity, to the frustrations caused by the quality of responses from local authorities to scoping documents.

Another interesting element was a workshop in which officials from the Environment Agency described how the regulator calculates the value of EIA through noting the financial and environmental savings produced during the EIA process. The workshop raised questions for many of the EIA Quality Mark registrants of what to measure, how and for whom, helping to guide IEMA on its creation of an EIA valuation tool to be piloted next year.

It was a fascinating day, and while everyone is clearly at the beginning of the EIA Quality Mark journey, this is a great opportunity for EIA professionals to come together and work together to tackle the challenges for EIA in the future and work to ensure that whatever the government’s understanding of sustainable development, the UK’s environment will be adequately considered.

Do you agree? Why not start a discussion in the IEMA LinkedIn Group and have your say?


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