The benefits of socioeconomic papers in EIA

23rd December 2014

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Alexandra Saponja

Spawforths advocates incorporating impacts on local populations into assessments

The EIA Regulations 2011 implement the EU directive “on the assessment of the effects of certain public and private projects on the environment”. The inclusion of the word “population” in Schedule 4 of the regulations suggests an EIA should consider possible impacts on humans.

Annex III of the directive identifies selection criteria referred to in article 4(3) and identifies that the environmental sensitivity of geographical areas likely to be affected by projects must be considered, including densely populated areas.

The directive also identifies that “the effects of a project on the environment should be assessed in order to take account of concerns to protect human health, to contribute by means of a better environment to the quality of life, to ensure maintenance of the diversity of species and to maintain the reproductive capacity of the ecosystem as a basic resource for life”.

Article 3 of the Directive notes the EIA “shall identify, describe and assess in an appropriate manner, in the light of each individual case and in accordance with Articles 4 to 12, the direct and indirect effects of a project on human beings, fauna and flora”.

The guidance is clear that the impact on human beings is an area which should be assessed as part of EIA. Whilst this is clearly not related to flora or fauna and the protection of the environment which past EIA have tended to focus upon there are many areas of overlap and interaction of effects between humans, flora and fauna which should be considered.

Assessing socioeconomic effects in an EIA can include the assessment of the development proposals’ effect on the local community and the environment in which they live.

The assessment of a project’s impact on the local community can flag up both positive and adverse effects. For the latter, appropriate mitigation can be found and integrated into a scheme resulting in positive impacts for a community.

The guidance is not clear to what extent impacts should be assessed, so it is important to agree and identify factors to be assessed at the scoping stage with the relevant authority. During this stage the establishment of an agreed methodology for testing is also recommended. Potential environmental impacts which might be considered for a Schedule 2 development include:
• population/demographics
• transport
• economic growth/employment
• housing
• retail/leisure
• community infrastructure
• quality of life indicators
• non-quantifiable impacts.

There is often a large overlap between socioeconomic effects and other technical areas such as transport, noise and visual impacts, but these interrelationships are often not captured in reports and often missed. These effects are considered equally important as they directly and indirectly impact upon the local community and wider population. The benefit of a technical paper allows those elements which can often be missed by other technical areas to be assessed and tested.

The benefits therefore of including a socioeconomic technical paper in environmental statements are as follows:
• consideration of the local community which historically has not been a key part of testing and assessment.

• understanding of the level of impact on local services and need to address any adverse impacts through mitigation.

• understanding the type of jobs which might be made available during both the construction and operational phase
• a robust assessment of interaction of effects which may not otherwise be considered: relationship between the local population and the local highways network, the effect on the local community during the construction phase, impact on or loss of services as a result of development.

• a more robust assessment for the planning authority to make their decision and balances the effects of a project on human beings, fauna and flora.

Further guidance is required from the government regarding socioeconomic impacts in EIA but current guidance recognises that impacts relating to the human population should be assessed and tested.

Spawforths is an independent planning consultancy.


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