IEMA's Impact Assessment lead Rufus Howard discusses the UK Governments Environmental Impact Assessment EIA reforms.

We already knew from the 2020 White Paper on Planning for the Future that the UK Government was considering changes to the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and Strategic Impact Assessment (SEA) regulations. IEMA responded to the original Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) consultation.

However, no formal response to the consultation has been published (with the Government having received over 44,000 responses), and following ministerial and departmental name changes it has been unclear if the EIA and SEA reforms have been mothballed alongside many of the other proposed changes to the planning system. However, in a recent Defra sponsored Nature Recovery Green Paper on Protected Sites and Species the Government has announced that it is still exploring reforms for both EIA and SEA.

Defra is already carrying out a post-implementation review (PIR) of EIA regulations for which it is responsible, namely: The Forestry EIA Regulations; The Agriculture EIA Regulations; The Water Resources EIA Regulations; and The Marine Works EIA Regulations. The PIR seeks to ask specific questions about the effectiveness of these regulations, and IEMA has responded to Defra with a summary of our previous positions.

However, we also know through the Green Paper that Defra is “seeking broader suggestions for improving the EIA scope and process of Defra regimes to help reduce environmental pressures, deliver the objectives in the Environment Act, and facilitate sustainable development” and on this basis, IEMA will include further recommendations for EIA and SEA in our response to the Green Paper in due course.

Having left the auspices of the EU Directive in environmental impact assessment there is an opportunity to retain the best aspects of the existing policy and practice, as well as introduce changes to improve these instruments to secure better outcomes for the environment and society. IEMA is committed to aiding policymakers in making evidence-based decisions using sound science and professional experience from competent experts. IEMA has been publishing good practice guidance on EIA since 1993 and continues to advocate for advances in the field of impact assessment to support the objective of living within environmental limits and supporting a just transition to a sustainable economy.

Our experience over the past 35 years is that EIA and SEA remain vital policy tools and offer the following key benefits:

  • Enhances the environmental quality of plans, policies and developments;
  • Avoids and minimises potential negative impacts on people and the environment;
  • Engages those who might be affected as a consequence of developments, plans and policy proposals; and
  • Provides stakeholders and authorities with a full and clear understanding of the likely environmental effects, prior to making a consenting or approval decision.
Photo of Rufus howard
Rufus Howard

Policy and Engagement Lead, IEMA

Dr Howard is the policy and engagement lead for Impact Assessment at IEMA and a leading professional in EIA, with two decades of international experience across renewable energy and major infrastructure.