Environmental Impact Assessments: Top Tips

Environmental Impact Assessment is integral to the planning and development process. It can help identify adverse environmental effects in the early stages of a project and ultimately contribute to producing a sustainable development. But it's a notoriously complex process. We highlight some best practices and how to avoid common mistakes to boost your understanding of EIA.

Not sure if you need an EIA? Download our flowchart here.

✔ Top tips

  • Early engagement - Ensure that EIA / environmental consultants are engaged as early as possible in a project to properly assess the environmental constraints and opportunities of the site and surrounding area
  • Environmental mitigation - Identify and commit to environmental mitigation and enhancement measures (e.g. Biodiversity Net Gain) so that these can be designed-in to the project at an early stage and relied upon within the EIA process
  • EIA - Consider whether to volunteer to undertake an EIA - this can be the least risky planning route and should guard against unfounded environmental objections and/or subsequent legal challenges
  • Request a Screening Opinion - If the proposal is in excess of any of the development thresholds contained in Schedule 2 of the EIA Regulations, or is within a designated ‘environmentally sensitive area’, you must  request a formal written Screening Opinion in accordance with the procedures set out in Regulation 6 – you can’t rely on a conversation or email exchange with the case officer, as this does not constitute a legally compliant Opinion
  • Environmental Compliance Report - The likelihood of screening out EIA can be enhanced by the offer to provide a concise Environmental Compliance Report with the planning application. This can be used to tie together the findings of the separate technical and environmental reports (as required by local policy) in a cohesive and conclusive format. This report validates the original Screening Opinion and can also help lessen the chance of too many onerous planning conditions being imposed; for example, by setting out overarching mitigation and sustainability commitments to be carried through to the detailed design and project implementation phases
  • Scoping stage - If a positive Screening Opinion is received, move quickly on to the EIA scoping stage – engage with the LPA and Statutory Authorities to discuss the scope of the EIA before requesting a formal Scoping Opinion. This helps get the most relevant parties ‘on side’ with the process, especially with respect to the case for scoping out peripheral, non-significant issues and ensuring ‘proportionality’ in the assessment process and Environmental Statement (ES)  
  • Public consultations - Engage with the public and interested third parties as part of the EIA process through digital consultation events or other means - know your potential objectors’ concerns in advance so that these matters can be addressed in the ES (where applicable), rather than at the post-submission stage
  • EIA experts - Ensure that the EIA and associated technical assessments are undertaken by competent experts as this is an explicit requirement of the EIA Regulations

× Things to avoid

  • Don’t delay EIA - Don’t start the EIA process too late or once the project design is fixed - the resulting ES could be deemed defective for not having properly assessed the comparative environmental effects of different scheme options/alternatives
  • Don’t delay surveys - Don’t delay the commissioning of seasonal or programme-critical surveys and desk studies, as these will be needed to ensure robust screening and scoping outcomes
  • Don’t try to fast-track the screening process – You need to give the LPA sufficient evidence to enable them to formulate a legally sound Screening Opinion
  • Don’t make assumptions - Don’t assume that the LPA Case Officer has the necessary expertise or knowledge of the EIA Regulations to provide a categorical and defensible Screening Opinion unaided. Instead, the request should be accompanied by a clear and well defined case for screening out EIA (if that is the desired outcome) backed up by a topic-by-topic screening appraisal in order to demonstrate that significant environmental effects are unlikely to occur  
  • Don’t ignore EIA guidance - Don’t ignore the statutory requirements or the national planning practice guidance on EIA – the most successful screening, scoping and EIA outcomes involve knowing the law, precedents and best practice principles of EIA. For example, for flexible outline planning applications, the correct application of the ‘Rochdale Envelope’ tests is key.
  • Don’t rush to request a Scoping Opinion - Once this is received it will effectively be binding - with the risk that you end up having to complete unnecessary surveys and assessment work. Instead, where possible, wait until all essential baseline surveys, desk studies and provisional impact assessments are complete in order to build the evidence base with which to scope down the final EIA and ES
  • Don’t assume that consultation on EIA ends with the receipt of a Scoping Opinion - LPA’s and statutory authorities often raise additional queries and requests for further information (under EIA Regulation 25) after the planning application and ES have been submitted. This can lead to significant delays to the planning determination date. It’s important to keep an open dialogue with these parties throughout, and to be prepared to extend the scope of the EIA where necessary
  • Don’t forget about the ES after submission - Don’t let the ES disappear into a black hole once submitted. Instead, hold regular follow-up meetings with the officers involved - be prepared to defend the technical validity of the ES, as LPAs (and even objector organisations) are increasingly employing consultants and lawyers to review the ESs they receive

Contact

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David Thomson

Senior Director, Environment +44 (0) 20 7280 3300 EMAIL
London - Farringdon Street | UK

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