Health has always been of key importance to the public. The recent pandemic has focused minds again on the importance of a healthy environment and in particular, on healthy public spaces.
Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is a process to examine the likely significant effects of a project. ‘Human health’ is one of the topics that EIA is required to consider.
EIA legislation provides a vital safeguard in protecting health by identifying potentially significant adverse effects on human health arising from proposed major planning developments. This information is provided to decision-makers and the public so that the consequences of a scheme can be considered prior to any decision being made to grant planning consent.
IEMA is therefore delighted to publish two new impact assessment guides on ‘Effective Scoping of Human Health in Environmental Impact Assessment’, and on ‘Determining Significance for Human Health In Environmental Impact Assessment’.
These latest two guides have been developed by IEMA’s Health Working Group which is comprised of EIA professionals working for organisations registered to the EIA Quality Mark and key stakeholders from Public Health organisations from England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Full details of the authors and working group are provided within the respective guides.
These guides cover the consideration of health as a topic in environmental impact assessment (EIA), focusing on two key aspects of practice, namely, scoping and determining significance. These two areas were identified by practitioners as areas where existing guidance, for example for HIA, did not give sufficient detail for the consideration of health as part of an EIA.
Scoping is the process of identifying the content and extent of the information to be included in the EIA. The aim of the scoping guide is to enable those responsible for commissioning, conducting or reviewing an EIA to determine the relevant health issues.
The first guide is focused on clarifying the information to include in an applicant’s Scoping Report. It also supports public health stakeholders in engaging and responding.
The new guidance provides a clear definition of what is within the scope of human health. This includes explaining the range of issues that can be relevant within an EIA, including not only health protection, but also health promotion and healthcare service considerations.
Physical, mental and social dimensions of health are considered, as well as health inequalities. This holistic approach to health is fundamental to a public health understanding of how a project affects the environment.
Significance is a technical term in EIA that articulates the importance of a particular issue within the planning decision. The aim of the significance guide is to explain what ‘significance’ means for ‘human health’ as an EIA topic.
The second guide explains how human health significance relates to the degree and context of changes in population health, including effects to vulnerable groups. This is explained with reference to public health evidence sources and consistent judgement criteria.
The requirement to consider health effects on humans was always present with the EIA requirements, however the requirement has made more explicit in the 2014 amendment to the EIA Directive (2014/52/EU), as transposed into UK and devolved legislation through instruments such as the Town and Country Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations 2017 and the Infrastructure Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations 2017.
For planners, developers, regulators and impact assessment professionals working with, or commissioning, health assessments to inform EIA, these publications provide new guidance, developed by leading practitioners, academics and public health stakeholders on how to effectively scope health and determine significant health impacts as part of an EIA.
Posted on 17th November 2022
Written by Rufus Howard
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