For environmental statements, the future is online.
Proportionate EIA remains a key priority for the impact assessment community. I have often linked the drive for more concise, effective and proportionate EIA to the government’s deregulation agenda.
Practitioners do not want to reduce protections for the environment, but we do want to ensure assessments are fit for purpose and accessible to non-experts. The Red Tape Challenge has now been joined by ‘digital by default’, a government phrase that can be heard on the lips of civil servants and echoes the Scottish drive for Digital Scotland 2020.
In essence, these initiatives recognise that smart phones, tablets, laptops and personal computers are increasingly the way a large proportion of the public access information, fill out forms and apply for services.
So how does digital by default affect impact assessment? This is not a new question. The theme of the 2015 IAIA conference in Florence, Italy was impact assessment in the digital era. I presented on ‘big data and impact assessment’.
EIA has embraced new technology over the years with ground penetrating radar for archaeology, ecological DNA sampling, high-definition aerial video for ornithology and augmented reality visualisations, for example. However, the use of technology and software for surveys and analysis has not made much headway.
Step forward the digital ES, much discussed, rarely seen. Royal HaskoningDHV has recently completed a pilot in the Netherlands (pp28–29) which has set heads talking in terms of what the UK might be able to replicate.
IEMA, through the IA network that I chair, is already in discussions with key statutory bodies such as PINs, NE and NRW on potential benefits, as well as the challenges of moving towards online and digital reporting solutions. One of the key challenges is bringing all the complex and varied stakeholders involved in impact assessment to a common understanding and agreement on the best way forward.
What is clear though is that time will not stand still, cars will become electric, houses will have solar tiles, and environment statements will be online.
8th June 2017