Reducing Environmental Impact …

EIMA Article

Reducing Environmental Impacts When Coordinating Environmental Impacts Assessments (EIA)

The current pandemic has pushed us all to better utilise online and digital technology. Our experiences over the past 18 months have shown us that previously accepted ways of working can be changed and improved through better utilisation of online and digital technology.

In addition, even more so now than in the past, we are being challenged to consider our impact on the environment. It seems that not a day goes by when environmental issues are not in the headlines, or that we are being advised on how we can better live our lives to reduce our impact on the environment through our day to day living and ways of working.

Given this, it has made AM-P consider how we could reduce our environmental impact when coordinating and managing EIAs. The following are two suggested practical solutions that could help achieve this.

EIAs often take months to compile. Most EIAs cover and assess a range of environmental effects. Given this, the project team tasked with delivering an EIA can be made up of many specialist consultants. Delivery of an EIA is managed and coordinated through a number of project meetings. Before the pandemic these meetings took place in person. This would usually involve appointed consultants traveling long distances, often by private car, to attend these meetings. However, during the pandemic, these meetings were undertaken virtually. This meant that consultants did not have to travel to meetings, which would reduce environmental impact by emission savings etc. AM-P have found virtual meetings to be equally productive and have also saved time and fees for clients. AM-P will aim to continue to utilise virtual meetings when managing and coordinating EIAs in the future to help reduce environmental impacts.

EIAs are often lengthy documents made up of a number of sections and appendices. This can result in EIAs being thousands of pages in length. With the regulations requiring that ‘hard’ copies be provided to LPAs, this results in significant amounts of paper being used to print documents. However, given that submissions are also made digitally, the use and need for hard copies is reducing. Given this, it would seem an obvious practical step if EIAs were only submitted in digital format. This would save a significant amount of paper and printing costs. Much progress has been made in terms of online and digital submissions in relation to planning applications and Local Plan examinations, so it would be logical that the same could be achieved in relation to EIAs submissions.

While it is recognised that some people may still not be able to access documents online, as an intermediary step, it could be that EIAs (or the necessary sections/appendices) are only printed in hard copy at request rather than as a requirement. However, this should be a steppingstone towards all EIA submissions only being provided in digital format.

To further facilitate this, the onus should be on authors to make EIAs submitted in digital format as understandable and navigable as possible. For example, future digital EIAs could include interactive maps and clear links to related chapters and or appendices.

Clearly the above suggestion would require a change to the regulations. AM-P will seek to petition the Government to remove the requirement to provided printed copies of EIAs to help reduce the environmental impact.

The above are suggestions that are sensible, practical and easily achievable which would reduce the environmental impact in managing and coordinating EIAs. EIA coordinators have a responsibility to manage the EIA process to limit environmental impact. AM-P will be taking on this challenge and will seek to establish best practice as we evolve how we coordinate EIAs in the future.

– Prepared by Mr Ian Butcher, Associate Director, Andrew Martin – Planning Limited, November 2021 –