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.


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.

Transform articles

National climate plans could see fossil fuel demand peak by 2025

Demand for fossil fuels will peak by 2025 if all national net-zero pledges are implemented in full and on time, the International Energy Agency (IEA) has forecast.

15th October 2021

Read more

Climate change remains one of the top issues most concerning the UK public, despite the economic turmoil experienced over the last 18 months, a poll commissioned by IEMA has found.

15th October 2021

Read more

Almost one-third of Europe's largest companies have now set net-zero emissions targets, but far less are set to deliver on their ambitions.

7th October 2021

Read more

The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) has today unveiled the most significant changes to its reporting standards since 2016, setting a new benchmark for corporate sustainability.

5th October 2021

Read more

A group of world-leading climate scientists has today warned that carbon pricing is currently too low to deliver a just transition to a net-zero economy, and that "urgent reforms" are needed.

30th September 2021

Read more

The Royal Botanic Gardens (RBG) in Kew has today unveiled a new strategy to tackle biodiversity loss and develop sustainable nature-based solutions to some of humanity’s biggest global challenges.

28th September 2021

Read more

David Burrows reports on the rising tide of cybercrime, and explains why an increased focus on business’s social role could help solve the problem

23rd September 2021

Read more

How to Save Our Planet is call to action that aims to equip everyone with the knowledge needed to make change. We need to deal with climate change, environmental destruction and global poverty, and ensure everyone’s security.

23rd September 2021

Read more

Hannah Lesbirel and Beccy Wilson speak to IEMA members about climate anxiety

23rd September 2021

Read more

Media enquires

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

Find an expert