Reasonable alternatives

9th February 2017


Istock 466507905 fmt

Related Topics

Related tags

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

Author

Alice Newman

Consultancy Savills uses a real case to show how different options should be part of the assessment process

To show how the stipulation will work in practice, take the example of a planning application for a high-voltage electric line (132kV) that will run above and below ground.

Setting the scene

Studies indicate that reasonable alternatives in EIA should meet six criteria:

  • they are considered early in the design process;
  • they are credible and appropriate for the project;
  • comparisons have been made between them;
  • a consultation has been conducted on them;
  • they include additional forms of mitigation alongside the alternatives; and
  • the environmental statement contains information on alternatives and the approach used to select them.

The application for the electric line was submitted to the Planning Inspectorate under the Planning Act 2008 and consisted of the construction, operation and maintenance of a new connection between a generating facility that had been granted approval and an existing overhead line (OHL). The link was approved by the secretary of state in 2016.

The starting point for considering other routes under the 2008 act is for the examining authority to look at what is proposed in the application. The authority cannot suggest its own routes.

The scheme developer produced a strategic optioneering report (SOR), which set out the costs of the engineering options available to connect the generating plant to the electricity network. The developer believed there were several ways to connect the two, including overhead lines, underground cables, alternative connection points and a separate or combined route for the generating facility.

The SOR provided details of the developer’s network and explained why one grid supply point was the preferred connection point. The route options for this connection formed the basis for the consultation among stakeholders during the statutory pre-application process. A recurring theme was the desire of interested parties – comprising statutory bodies, NGOs and the public – for the connection to be entirely underground.

Planning considerations

A desk-based assessment of environmental constraints was carried out by the developer of the study area as well as a spatially defined area around it. This assessment identified designated areas and features. The developer then outlined its:

  • Preferred route corridors – These were suggested to avoid nationally designated areas, such as national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty. The developer carried out a consultation to assist in deciding the preferred corridor.
  • Selected route corridor – The developer included several potential route alignments in its preferred corridor and a statutory consultation was carried out with stakeholders. The developer also consulted on the proposed development, which included the OHL and underground section.
  • Route alignment – The preferred route alignment was chosen and formed the basis of the application for a development consent order (DCO).

National Policy Statement (NPS) EN-5 states that, if there are serious concerns about a proposed overhead line’s possible adverse landscape and visual effects, mitigation may be best. Concerns about these effects were two of the main drivers for selecting the preferred route. The developer concluded that running the line underground would mitigate what would otherwise be highly significant adverse impacts in one area.

Most interested parties were opposed to the OHL. In their representations, they suggested four options to the developer’s preferred alignment: putting the whole route underground; using an existing OHL; running the line in trunking next to a main road; and placing a further section underground when it reaches a non-statutory designated area that is deemed sensitive in terms of cultural heritage.

In law

Under the Infrastructure Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations 2009 (as amended), there is no requirement to assess all potential options, only to provide a review of those that have been considered. In relation to the first – laying the whole route underground – the developer persuaded the examiner that the extra economic, social and environmental impacts would clearly outweigh the benefits. The developer concluded that the second and third options – using an existing OHL and the trunking next to a main road – were not plausible. There were additional costs and potential landscape impacts associated with the second, while the trunking was not believed to be big enough to support underground electricity cables.

The examiner recommended that option four – laying the lines in a culturally sensitive area – be included in the DCO. In its favour was the lack of objections to this approach during the consultation and because it complied with local policies.

Lessons learned

Stakeholders were engaged in the development of the project early on – more than two years before the planning application was submitted. Engagement was also extensive, with three separate rounds of consultation, although some stakeholders failed to appreciate how to engage with the process of proposing other solutions.

The key messages from this case study are that, if interested parties wish to have an alternative considered in an examination, they need to:

  • engage in the pre-application consultation;
  • provide substantive information on proposed alternatives; and
  • ensure these are reasonable (in accordance with reason or sound thinking), credible and suitable.

Developers, meanwhile, must ensure that the proposed alternatives:

  • have undergone a form of consultation that may have influenced their selection;
  • have been compared against each other; and
  • suggest additional forms of mitigation.

All parties in the process need to understand that the starting point in considering alternative routes under the 2008 act is that the examining authority can look only at what is proposed in the application. It cannot suggest an alternative or recommend granting a DCO for a scheme that follows a different route or locations for works other than those in any draft order accepted for examination. The examining authority can consider an alternative only if it has been put forward as part of the application, although other options can be looked at if they are proposed and accepted into the examination.

The Savills’ team is: Tim Waterfield, director of strategic projects; Karl Cradick, director of planning; Richard Frost, director of energy and planning; and Gillian Froud, associate director strategic projects.

Subscribe

Subscribe to IEMA's newsletters to receive timely articles, expert opinions, event announcements, and much more, directly in your inbox.


Transform articles

Advice note on health impact assessments

An advice note on health impact assessments and health in environmental assessments is set to be published by IEMA soon.

31st May 2024

Read more

IEMA’s Impact Assessment Network is delighted to have published A Roadmap to Digital Environmental Assessment.

2nd April 2024

Read more

Lisa Pool on how IEMA is shaping a sustainable future with impact assessment

27th November 2023

Read more

IEMA responded in September to the UK government’s consultation on the details of the operational reforms it is looking to make to the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIP) consenting process as put forward in the NSIP reform action plan (February 2023).

24th November 2023

Read more

Members of IEMA’s Impact Assessment Network Steering Group have published the 17th edition of the Impact Assessment Outlook Journal, which provides a series of thought pieces on the policy and practice of habitats regulations assessment (HRA).

26th September 2023

Read more

In July, we published the long-awaited update and replacement of one of IEMA’s first published impact assessment guidance documents from 1993, Guidelines for the Environmental Assessment of Road Traffic.

1st August 2023

Read more

Are we losing sight of its intended purpose and what does the future hold for EIA? Jo Beech, Tiziana Bartolini and Jessamy Funnell report.

15th June 2023

Read more

Luke Barrows and Alfie Byron-Grange look at the barriers to adoption of digital environmental impacts assessments

1st June 2023

Read more

Media enquires

Looking for an expert to speak at an event or comment on an item in the news?

Find an expert

IEMA Cookie Notice

Clicking the ‘Accept all’ button means you are accepting analytics and third-party cookies. Our website uses necessary cookies which are required in order to make our website work. In addition to these, we use analytics and third-party cookies to optimise site functionality and give you the best possible experience. To control which cookies are set, click ‘Settings’. To learn more about cookies, how we use them on our website and how to change your cookie settings please view our cookie policy.

Manage cookie settings

Our use of cookies

You can learn more detailed information in our cookie policy.

Some cookies are essential, but non-essential cookies help us to improve the experience on our site by providing insights into how the site is being used. To maintain privacy management, this relies on cookie identifiers. Resetting or deleting your browser cookies will reset these preferences.

Essential cookies

These are cookies that are required for the operation of our website. They include, for example, cookies that enable you to log into secure areas of our website.

Analytics cookies

These cookies allow us to recognise and count the number of visitors to our website and to see how visitors move around our website when they are using it. This helps us to improve the way our website works.

Advertising cookies

These cookies allow us to tailor advertising to you based on your interests. If you do not accept these cookies, you will still see adverts, but these will be more generic.

Save and close