Ever since the UK Government transposed changes to the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Directive 85/337/EEC into UK law, through the Town & Country Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations in 2017 (‘the EIA Regulations’), it has been necessary for developers to ensure that their environmental statements are prepared by ‘competent experts’.
In particular, the EIA Regulations state that:
“18(5) – In order to ensure the completeness and quality of the environmental statement –
(a) the developer must ensure that the environmental statement is prepared by competent experts; and
(b) the environmental statement must be accompanied by a statement from the developer outlining the relevant expertise or qualification of such experts.”
Research suggests that there is no single established definition of a ‘competent expert’ and given that EIAs can vary widely in subject matter, scale and content, it is unlikely that a single definition will emerge and be accepted by all EIA practitioners. Instead Andrew Martin – Planning (AM-P) believes that it should be for the decision maker, as a matter of judgement, to determine whether or not an Environmental Statement (ES), or part thereof, has been prepared by competent experts.
In this regard the “… statement from the developer outlining relevant expertise or qualification of such experts” is vital to demonstrate to the decision maker that competent experts have prepared the ES.
In 2018 the Institute of Environmental Sciences (IES) surveyed its members and held a workshop to further its understanding of what competence means and how members can achieve, maintain and demonstrate their competence.
The results of this process, as reported in IES’s August 2018 discussion paper ‘Helping our members working in EIA prove competence’, indicated that most importantly the relevance of an individual’s experience is key to their competence to undertake work on a given project and more significant than the number of years’ experience. The results also found that a ‘one size fits all’ solution will not work, because practitioner engagement with EIA is too complex and diverse for any one definition of competence or any one registration / certification system to apply to all.
With this in mind, AM-P recommends that its clients select competent experts and demonstrate their competence in a statement in the ES, based on a combination of the following factors:
- Role – Practitioners should be appointed to roles that are relevant to their professions, if they are to be considered competent experts. Although this may seem obvious, in the past it has not always been clear which practitioner(s) has been responsible for preparing each section of an ES. Setting this out explicitly in the competence statement will avoid ambiguity and misunderstandings once the ES is made public and reviewed by third parties.
- Qualification & Accreditation – All practitioners who prepare the ES (or parts of it) should be suitably qualified in their field. In most cases this is likely to include degree and / or diploma-level qualifications in a relevant subject and accreditation or chartership by their professional body or institute.
- Experience – It is vital that the practitioner has relevant EIA experience in the subject matter to which they are contributing towards, as someone who is qualified and accredited but has little or no experience is unlikely to be considered an ‘expert’, even if they are ‘competent’. As IES mention, it is probably more important to demonstrate the relevance of any experience (for example, by reference to the preparation of environmental statements for similar projects in the same region of the country) rather than simply the number of years worked.
- CPD – If there have been recent changes in a particular field or to the Regulations generally, it may be worthwhile to identify continuing professional development (CPD) activities that a practitioner has undertaken, including training courses, seminars and any peer-to-peer review work.
For example, practitioners at AM-P often demonstrate their competence in co-ordinating and managing EIAs, producing introductory, land use, socio-economic and cumulative impact ES sections, and drafting non-technical summaries, through a combination of their:
(i) day-to-day role as town planners, project managers and EIA practitioners;
(ii) degree-level qualifications, Chartered Membership of the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) and the company’s IEMA endorsed ‘EIA Quality Mark’;
(iii) extensive experience managing EIAs and preparing environmental statements for major urban extensions and new communities in the East of England and West Midlands, including in recent years at Beaulieu Park (Essex), Woodside Farm (Warwickshire), Chelmer Mead (Essex), Bourn Airfield (Cambridgeshire), Bishop’s Stortford South (Hertfordshire) and Warren Farm (Essex); and
(iv) continuing commitment to professional development through periodic attendance at seminars and training days on EIA law and best practice.
In summary, although the requirement for environmental statements to be prepared by competent experts has existed for nearly 5 years, there remains no single established definition of what a ‘competent expert’ is. Instead it is a matter for the decision maker, as a matter of judgement, to determine whether or not an ES has been prepared by competent experts.
While a one size fits all solution will not work, because EIAs are too complex and diverse for any one definition of competence or any one registration / certification system to apply to all, AM-P recommends selecting competent experts and demonstrate their competence in a statement in the ES, based on a combination of their: role; qualification and accreditation; experience; and, CPD.
Doing so should not only ensure compliance with Regulation 18(5) of the EIA Regulations, but also make an ES more robust and less likely to be challenged by third parties via judicial review.
– Prepared by Mr Olivier Spencer, Director, Andrew Martin – Planning Limited, April 2022 –