The delivery of effective outcomes for the environment, communities and development is a team effort, and more so when it comes to consenting projects that undergo Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).
On a system basis this team is not limited to the developer’s consultant team - of EIA coordinator and environmental specialists - but encompasses the other parties involved in the process, including the planning authority, statutory consultees, designers, academics, contractors and more. To be effective, however, a team needs to understand each other’s roles, have some shared objectives, and communicate. As such, for a country’s EIA system to be effective there is a need for all parties involved to understand different perspectives on and roles in the EIA process. It is therefore valuable to provide opportunities for regular discussion and exchange between those involved in the EIA process.
Within the UK, Scotland provides a leading example of how this can be achieved through its annual Scotland’s EIA Conference event. Building upon the success of an IEMA event that helped launch the 2017 EIA (Scotland) Regulations, the conference was founded in May 2018 by IEMA Fellow Josh Fothergill. The annual conference is delivered as a partnership between his company (Fothergill Training & Consulting Ltd), the Scottish Government and three EIA statutory consultees – Historic Environment Scotland (HES), NatureScot and the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA).
The conference is designed to be accessible for all parties and is free to attend through the kind sponsorship of organisations committed to the delivery of good quality EIA practice. The first two editions of the conference were held as face-to-face events with around 120 delegates crammed into a central Edinburgh venue. As with many such events, the pandemic led to the cancellation of the 2020 face-to-face event, with a lunchtime webinar – hosted by IEMA - providing some mild consolation on the date the Edinburgh based conference had been planned to be held.
The 2021 edition of Scotland’s EIA Conference - sponsored by IEMA, Lichfields, SSE Renewables and Sweco - has also had to adapt to on-going situation and has opted for an online approach to delivery. The conference partners therefore agreed to team up with IEMA and deliver the conference sessions via its GoToWebinar platform.
The engaging six-hour conference programme will be delivered in four themed 90minunte sessions, running from 10-11.30am across the 10th to the 13th of May, as follows:
- 10 May: Advancing Effective EIA Practice
- 11 May: EIA's role in Net Zero and Nature-based Solutions
- 12 May: Digital Transformation & EIA
- 13 May: EIA & The Courts - Recent Case Law and Practical Responses
The conference opens with the regular theme of effective EIA practice and will see presentations from Lichfields, SEPA and IEMA Fellow, Professor Thomas Fischer from Liverpool University who has recently been engaged with projects of impact assessment effectiveness in Scotland. We caught up with speaker Kate McGill - an Associate Director at Lichfield’s - to get her view on the session. She indicated Lichfields delight in sponsoring Scotland’s EIA Conference 2021, highlighting her view that “it is the best forum to drive forward EIA best practice in Scotland to the advantage of developers, consultants, Local Planning Authorities and consultees alike.”
Kate went on to indicate that her presentation will draw on the company’s active experience in the field of EIA, having submitted 14 EIAs in the last 6 months. Lichfield have used this insight to research EIA practice and will launch two papers that will be discussed on the morning of the 10th of May. Kate revealed that: “one considers the lessons we have learnt regarding consultation during the Covid-19 pandemic and the second explores the scoping process in Scotland, outlining measures as to how this process can be improved, resulting in shorter, more efficient EIA Reports.”
The theme for the conference’s second day considers EIA’s role in key sustainability goals, such as Net Zero and the uptake of Nature-based Solutions (NbS). The session will see presentations from NatureScot on EIA and NbS, recent research published by ClimateXchange on EIA’s role in managing greenhouse gas emissions, and an over-arching presentation from Sweco on the challenges and opportunities for EIA to contribute to the ‘Green Recovery’.
Becky McLean, EIA Technical Director Sweco explained that: “Sweco is passionate about progressing and improving the practice of EIA, working collaboratively with regulators, developers and other EIA practitioners. Sweco are proud to be sponsoring such a highly valued industry event that provides the opportunity for everyone to attend, contribute and learn from others.”
The third day’s 90minute session (12 May) sees the return of a very popular theme from the 2019 conference with presentation and discussion focussing on how digital approaches are helping to transform EIA. IEMA’s IA Policy lead – Rufus Howard – will provide an overview of this rapidly developing area of practice before SSE Renewables reflects on a current example of their work on applying digital EIA, with HES going on to provide a statutory consultees perspective on the benefits and challenges of such approaches.
The conference’s keynote speech will be delivered on the morning of 13th May by respected Scottish EIA planning lawyer Neil Collar of Brodies LLP. Providing an ever-popular review and update of EIA case law, Neil will highlight recent cases and reiterate key legal principles established in practice. The session will then move on to a panel discussion with William Carlin senior policy manager for EIA at the Scottish Government, IEMA’s Rufus Howard and other speakers from the conference joining Neil to debate the practical issues of implementing legal outcomes, followed by delegate questions.
While the conference is the centre piece of discussion amongst and across the professional EIA community in Scotland it is by no means the only activity to take place. IEMA’s IA Network and Scottish Groups have organised events and webinars in recent years, including joint initiatives with the University of Strathclyde. This year Is no exception with Kate and Becky indicating they are exploring the opportunity of hosting a joint follow-on EIA helpdesk podcast in June. The podcast will enable delegates to spend time reflecting on the themes the conference raises and ask follow-up questions to these leading EIA professionals from Lichfields and Sweco.
We hope you find time to join us for the live conference – to do so please register for each session via the links above (or find them all at: www.fothergilltc.com/eiaconference). For those unable to attend the live sessions we plan to record the sessions and make these recordings online and plan to produce a follow-up article for Transform in the early summer.
Posted on 22nd April 2021
Written by Josh Fothergill
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