Securing good proportions in EIA through effective scoping

22nd January 2015


EIA practitioners at WSP discuss how to approach the scoping phase differently in order to meet expectations of multiple parties, while reducing the scale of the ES.

The fundamental purpose of an EIA is to provide decision makers with sufficient information on the significant effects on the environment that are likely to arise regarding a development. The procedure is simple: identify and assess any likely significant effects, with a view to avoiding or mitigating any that are adverse and enhancing any that are beneficial. As a result, the development presented for consideration should represent an environmentally sound, perhaps even responsible option.

In practice, nothing is quite so simple. The process of identifying effects are “not significant” often entails more effort than that required to identify, assess and mitigate significant effects. Fear of legal challenge or stakeholder opposition can prompt developers to submit a “boots and braces” ES, which covers all potential impacts. In doing so, the essence of the EIA is lost and the ability to understand and evaluate the net impact of the development is diminished.

There are a number of methods for reducing the scale of an ES including:

· limit the assessment to significant impacts only;

· make judicious use of technical appendices;

· link to later stages in the development process; and

· undertake scoping during the design of the development.

The last of these is perhaps the most interesting and under-utilised.

You may consider that the methods for reducing the scope of ES outlined below do not represent anything new. In which case, consider this question: does the ES meet the requirements of the regulations in a manner that engages with third parties, while clearly detailing the likely significant impacts of the development and associated mitigation measures?

Scoping as an ongoing process

Scoping is a fundamental process in EIA, but may not be being used to its full potential. Anecdotal evidence suggests that consultants and clients (developers) both regard it as a singular deliverable rather than a stage in the conversation process. In comparison, effective scoping is a multi-stage process where key issues are identified and explored. This stage starts with the submission of a scoping request, seeking to establish the framework for the EIA. It should be fairly high-level. The project is then in the planning system, allowing it to be considered in cumulative assessments for other proposals. The next stage is to re-scope in order to refine the scope of the EIA, utilising any additional information. This is a crucial step to limit the scope of the ES and is akin to the preliminary environmental information stage in the application for a development consent order. Subsequent stages at which re-scoping could be undertaken include:

· as part of the production of the scoping report;

· after review of incoming baseline data and surveys;

· after review of consultation activities, to incorporate local knowledge; and

· after any modelling and production of results (i.e. before the report writing stage).

Utilise all options at your disposal

Defining scoping under the EIA Regulations can, and should, be informed through the discussions under other avenues. For instance, the Discretionary Advice Service (DAS) offered by Natural England can be utilised to define the scope of assessment for development proposals that are likely to affect Natura 2000 sites, Ramsar sites, sites of special scientific interest, marine-protected areas and protected landscapes. Other options include: scoping workshops, pre-application meetings with the consenting authority, and ongoing dialogue linked to the key stages outlined above.

Considering insignificant impacts

Revisiting scoping allows the EIA to focus on the assessment of significant effects only, as consultees and legal advisers will have confidence that all potential impacts have been considered during the scoping stage.

Every ES should aspire to provide a level of assessment that is commensurate to the anticipated level of impact; considering both the likely duration and scale of effect. Providing superfluous information (or over-reporting) suggests that the development will have a level of impact inflated beyond which is “likely”. This also limits the degree to which stakeholders are engaged in relation to potential significant effects arising due to a surfeit of information.

Conclusion

The scoping process is fundamental to undertaking an EIA that is appropriate for the development proposed and which responds to the likely requirements of the decision maker and statutory consultees. Consideration should be given to options for re-scoping once further information is known about the scheme with a view to reducing the extent of the EIA, and by refining the range of specific subject areas through the use of other avenues (such as DAS). By scoping early, revising the scheme and then re-scoping, there is potential for the ES to be much more focused and readily understood by all parties. The art to good EIA consultancy is not the length of reporting, but rather the quality of the report.

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