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Environmental impact assessment, EIA have evolved rapidly in the past years, spurred by increasing number of regulations and legislations. This chapter provides a theoretical background of EIA process in order to establish the need for the focus of this research which deals with one of its preliminary steps, known as baseline. The chapter starts with an overview of the EIA, moves to its legislative requirement and main procedures then focuses on baseline environment; its establishment, need, placing it into the context of overall EIA process. This will highlight its roles and relationship with other EIA stages in order to expose its influence on the EIA process.
Since the introduction of EIA over 3 decades in the United States, various countries have also included the EIA process in the planning development. EIA till date is generally recognised as key aspect of most large scales planning proposals. Numerous studies on EIA in UK and other parts of the world have also been develop and various authors have attempted to define this process; for several authors (Carroll and Turpin, 2009; DETR, 2000; FoE 2005; Glasson et al., 2005; Jay and Handley, 2001; Weston, 2000; Weston, 2004; Wood, 2007). EIA is a procedure established to inform authorising bodies, planners and affected public about a proposed project and their likely effects. Likewise, Lawrence (2003) gave a broad definition of EIA process which he described as a systematic process of:
- Determining and managing (identifying, describing, measuring, predicting, interpreting integrating communicating, involving and controlling) the
- Potential or real impacts (direct and indirect, individual and cumulative, likelihood of occurrence) of
- Proposed (or existing) human actions (projects, plans, programmes, legislation activities and their alternatives on the
- Environment (physical, chemical, biological, ecological, human health, cultural, social, economic, built and interrelations).
The definition of the environment outlined here is broad, comprising of various aspects of possible environmental components. This serves to highlight a wide environmental consideration by the EIA process. In simple word, EIA is the identification, assessment and management of the environmental effects/impacts that may arise from implementation of a proposed project which may significantly affect the natural man made environment. The benefits of EIA have been acknowledged and accepted by various researchers and also worldwide as an important environment decision making tool (IEMA, 2002; Wood, 2003) instituted for identifying and managing the significant impacts of development proposals (DLCG, 2006; IEMA, 2004; Jay et al., 2007; Petts, 1999; Weston, 2004). Accurately, EIA not only aims to controls impacts but may also contribute to planning decision making.
3.2.1 EIA required and steps
EIA process was derived from European law (Foe, 2005) and was formerly referred to as environmental assessment in UK. In both the UK and EU requirement for an EIA is set out in directive 85/337/EEC and the revised Directive 97/11/EC, and Directive 2003/35/EC 2007 implemented through a series of regulations. However, EIA regulation for planning projects in England and Wales are Town and country planning (assessment of environmental effects) Regulations 1988 and the subsequent 1999, 2000, 2006, 2008 amendments. The directive's main aim requires the competent authority for a particular project to acknowledge and centres his decision on likely 'significant effects' of a project proposal on the environment. The EIA regulations applies to two lists of developments. It is required that for a specified list of project types (Annex 1) or for all projects under the schedule 1, EIA must be carried out. Other projects listed in Annex ii and iii may also require EIA depending on project location, characteristics, size and also characteristics of potential impacts respectively. Hence, for projects under schedule two EIA will be carried out if and only if it exceeds the given thresholds i.e. if the development is likely to have a significant impact on the environment by virtue of its nature, size or location. The legislation requires the inclusion of the following;
The likely significant effect, direct, indirect on the environment of the development explained by reference to its possible impact on the following environmental receptors): human beings, soil fauna water air climate, the landscape the interaction between any of the foregoing material assets and the cultural heritage.'
Competently, in a simple word EIA covers all types of impacts from development (Foe, 2005). However, EIA is not a straight forward project there are various stages in carrying out the EIA process and these contributes towards achieving the main aims of the EIA and purpose of its implementation.
3.2.3 EIA steps
In accordance with UK legislation, it is the developer/proponent who has the main responsibility for managing the assessment process and producing EIA documents. The generic steps in EIA are divided into three: (a) preliminary assessment; this involves scoping, screening and baseline studies and (b) detailed assessment; impact analysis, mitigation and EIS presentation (c) follow up; monitoring and auditing (Morrison –Saunders and Arts, 2004). The process which involves a number of steps
The process begins with identification of projects that require EIA often known as screening. A local planning authority decides if EIA is required in consultation with the applicant. Scoping follows, to investigate the necessary and significant information to be addressed while carrying out EIA. Consideration of alternatives to ensure that other possible approaches have been recognised including alternative project location site, scales, layouts, operating conditions and the 'no action' option.
Baseline studies to identify the environmental components in the proposed development site/ area. Impact prediction and assessment to enable identification and evaluation of impacts that may arise as a result of the project proposal. Mitigation measures are then established to avoid, minimise, remedy or compensate these effects. Monitoring measures are then proposed to oversee that these management plans are achieved. These information gathered, are then presented in an environmental statement. A review stage which involves logical evaluation of the quality of the ES. Public participation and Consultation is also incorporated into this process.
As stated earlier that the regulation requires the assessment of significant effects of a proposed project in relation to the environmental receptors of a project the question is how the effects will be assessed? Or rather what is the requirement for assessment of the identified effects? The question tends to be answered in the following section.
3. 4 Baseline in EIA
The term baseline was introduced in the environmental literature at same period as the conception of EIA process. Figure 2. illustrates how baseline fits into the EIA process. A number of literature publications (Canter, 1996; Glasson et al., 2005) have clearly defined and explained baseline concept and its role in EIA process; prominent points from literature which places the principles in context follows;
A baseline study is an activity undertaken at an early stage in EIA and is integral to the EIA process. They are often referred to as the environmental setting, existing conditions, affected environment, and background environment, environmental conditions, environmental receptors, baseline data information (Canter, 1996; Eccleston, 2001; Shepherd, 2006). However, there is no universally accepted definition for baseline. Although it is often defined as in EIA context as the physical, chemical ,biological ,social ,economic, and cultural setting of an environment in which the proposed project is to be located, and where impacts might be expected to occur (Shepherd, 2006). They have also been defined as present and future environmental state of the proposed project site (Glasson et al., 2005). Accurately, they are compiled information concerning what the measure of the attributes would be (or is) prior to the activity at the project site.
3.4.2 Legal status and requirement of baseline in EIA
Where does a baseline study fit into the broader picture in EIA? Treweek (1999) reports that nearly all legislation requires description of baseline condition. Theoretically, in terms of environment legislation, the legislation do not specifically refer to 'baseline studies'; however, the need for it is a minimum requirement (schedule 4 part 11). The EIA directive requires the following:
- The data required to identify and assess the main effects which the development is likely to have on the environment (schedule 4, part 11,2)
- the likely evolution thereof without implementation of the plan and programme.(Annex 1, article 5 (1) (b)
- An indication of any difficulties (technical deficiencies or lack of know-how) encountered during the compilation of the required information. (Annex 1, article 5(h).
The data required to assess the effects of the development refers to baseline information. The likely evolution refers to the future environmental condition of a proposed project site. It is likely that there may be gaps or constraints encountered while gathering environmental information, clearly, an indication of limitation of the information generated is required.
3.4.3 Baseline topics
Environmental disturbances may manifest a change of one or more receptors (i.e. water, air, soil, land etc) often refereed to as environmental resources (Eccleston, 2001). They also represent various environmental components that may be considered during the assessment stage. For instance if a flood channel is to be constructed and there are concerns about the effects on water resources, habitat and species due to widening of stream. The aim of baseline will be to determine the existing number of species, habitats, and water quality etc. However, there are no specific standard requirements on the number and type of environmental factors/ components that will be considered in description of environmental setting (Canter, 1996).The different environmental component that may be considered are established in table 1 below lists some of the environmental components that may be considered in outlining the baseline.
3.4.4 Method and techniques
Different approaches can be used to identify an initial list of environmental factors relevance to a proposed project. Four common practical methods have been identified. Desk studies, filed surveys, modelling and consultation is all applicable methods to characterise the baseline environment (RPS, 2007).
i) Site visits
Site visits involves member of the study team to visit the proposed project location.
This could provide familiarization with the area and enable more- effective
understanding of the site and its environments and identification of the key issues (DCLG, 2006b).
ii) Desk study
Baseline studies are often initiated through desk studies to identify the key environmental components to be considered. This involves use of secondary data sources including published and unpublished sources. Appropriate data for describing the physical, chemical, biological cultural and socio economic environments can be obtained from reports and unpublished data from numerous regulatory agencies at local, state, regional and federal government levels. This may include information gathered directly during consultation, (RPS, 2007) such as information from statutory consultees (which includes environment agency, countryside agency, English heritage), non governmental organisations, local groups (e.g. local wildlife groups); local authorities (e.g. oxford city council) and environment websites and muliti agency geographical information for countryside agency (DLCG, 2006b). Thus, encouraging rapid compilation of variety of information which serves as a basis for baseline assessment. The need for field survey may be identified at this stage.
Surveys involve a great range of technique, usually quantitative such as ecology and ambient noise survey or qualitative such as like water quality. Guidance and methodology for filed survey are often found from professional and statutory agencies. (DLCG, 2006b). Field survey is often used to identify baseline conditions and to compliment the desk study. Also the baseline survey for a specific EIA project will be dependent on the proposed project, site location and sensitivities. Concern should be given to any seasonal constraints for instance, some surveys are seasonally dependent or may be require a long duration to assess for instance summer and winter are considered for landscape survey and visual impact assessment, which may require photomontages and ecological survey of species which requires about one year to be established (Carroll and Turpin, 2009; DCLG, 2006b). Adequate time should be planned into the scheme for such surveys. However, its is important to note that all field surveys should be planned and implemented in a manner that can be repetitive before construction stage.
iv) Professional knowledge, Expert opinion and key informants
A good method of identifying environmental factors is to employ professional knowledge related to the expected impacts of specific types of projects (Canter, 1996). This may require consultation with a number of informants who have knowledge on existing condition of the site area, and may include representatives of special group, etc. Experts can also predict how a particular environmental component may react. An expert may determine how a specific habitat will react or develop. Survey can then be identified to compliment or support the experts' opinion.
3.6 Establishment of baseline
After the identification of key environmental factors, baseline assessment can be conducted in various ways. Canter (1996) established a framework on assessing baseline information presented in figure 3. The primary step includes identification of variety of environmental factors at the specific project site, whereby scoping/ selection technique may be applied to focus on the key issues. This selection stage is referred to as the central issue of the baseline approach. This is because, EIA is centred on 'significant issues' hence the selection stage is required to scope out irrelevant environmental components. Baseline environment is very broad. Significance is the main theme for EIA. After which the identification of relevant existing data for the key selected factors will be applied. The preparation of description of the existing environment then follows.
Glasson et al., (2005) also studied and attempted to develop a framework analysis of baseline. In this case each environmental, which after identification of a factor a statement of objective or purpose for selected factor is identified, then the required information is listed and the technique for assessment of the data follows and finally objective
The approached developed could be appraised as it included the objective of the selected factors environmental factor. It is required that while identifying baseline a clear purpose should be identified (Knight 2009). In order, to justify the reason for selection.
3.4.6 Need for baseline
Baseline is required for a variety of purposes and it's often categorised into two major steps Lawrence (2003).
- Environmental overview at screening stage and scoping
- A more in depth environmental appraisal during impact assessment.
Baseline could also be identified in the EIA process, whenever additional information is introduced into the assessment (Lawrence, 2003). It is however, important to note that baseline studies have a key role to play from the project initiation to final design and establishment of operational standards (Wathern, 1992). This perhaps implies that, baseline is not limited to one point in the assessment and may be incorporated into other EIA step. It is considered worthwhile to further explore baseline roles in the stages of EIA process
3.4.7 Relationship between baseline and other EIA steps
Because it is identified as an initial step in the EIA process, its consideration may have an effect on the other EIA steps.
Screening: During screening baseline is required in identification of valuable environmental resources which may indicate whether a proposal requires EIA or not.
Scoping: Baseline is often incorporated into the scoping stage. Its been recognised that baseline studies using existing data and local knowledge are required for scoping ( FAO, 2005) and is also perceived as a scoping technique. As noted earlier, in establishment of baseline, scoping comes into place during the selection of significant environmental factor. Once significant issue have been identified the need for further in depth studies can be clearly identified and perhaps allows initiation of additional data collection. Moreover, scope and depth of the baseline studies is usually incorporated at pre project state and scoping stages during consultation with the local planning authority and consultees to deal with the seasonal effects on surveys (DCLG 2006b).
Impact identification and assessment: This is the most significant stage of the EIA process which allows complete incorporation of all the selected baseline environment. Only by carefully and systematically describe the initial baseline environmental conditions is it possible to present an accurate and convincing picture of the likely effects that the development will have on its environment (Wood, 2003) and if deficient, conclusions made about impact significant may be questioned (Eccleston, 2001). Hence only by identifying the existing environmental factors/ components that entire impacts of a development would be assessed. Baseline therefore provide evidence of impacts assessed.
Choice of alternatives: Baseline environment may also be considered during assessment of project alternatives. Alternatives seeks to identify a specific project site, location, materials and design by comparing environmental baseline of various options in order to select a more environmental friendly option. The most important aspect of various options considered is the 'do nothing' scenario. In this case it is expected that the proposal would consider existing condition in absence of the project implemented and perhaps it's possible future state. Hence, these future conditions are standards against which are compared projected future conditions of project alternatives. Clearly, This forms a basis upon which the future environmental effects of different alternatives are assessed (Environment Agency 2008; Shepherd, 2006) in order to predict what the state of the environment will look like if the project is to go ahead.
After impacts are predicted mitigation measures are identified in order to manage the impacts during project implementation. This may involve minimisation of, or prevention of impacts; compensation may occur when impacts cannot be avoided for instance by providing a new habitat or planting new trees in order to replace affected habitats, remediation, enhancement centred around developments and this may involve a development on contaminated land in order to improve the quality. Baseline therefore provides environmental components to assist in the establishment or mitigation measures (Lawrence, 2003) and is may also be used to assess the success of mitigation measures.
Monitoring is undertaken to establish information on description and functions of environmental variables. Baseline may also be required during monitoring (Lawrence 2003: 55, Morris and Therivel, 2009) as monitoring ensures assessment of changes of environmental parameters against baseline. Indeed, baseline, establish quality foundation for appraisal of post-EIA studies on the project site.
Impact prediction and selection of alternatives are the main stages whereby baseline data is highly recommended. If key role of EIA process is to facilitate decision making, then impact prediction is necessary at that stage and the baseline information gathered serves as a basis for impact analysis. Nevertheless, it would be accepted that;
''baseline studies form backbone of component assessments''
(Morris and Therivel, 2009). Indeed, it is not limited to impact assessment but might take place during scoping, choice of alternatives, mitigation identification and monitoring accuracy and plausibility of much of the remainder of the EIA report depends upon it (Wood, 2003).
3.4.8 Problem associated with baseline studies
There are many problems surrounding baseline assessment these problems are however mostly encountered in practice. As an initial step in EIA, baseline requires so much time and information and if not carefully carried out may affect the other steps in the EIA process.
Problem with definition
In development context baseline is one of the hardest words to define because of its broad meaning. In agreement, is Wathern (1992), who identified baseline studies as the least understood element of EIA, he emphasized that its definition as ''social, physical and biological environments which could be affected by the development project '' as the reason for most difficulties encountered with baseline studies. This is because in an attempt to describe the environment, various information are accumulated on general topics of water, air etc (Wathern 1992). This however focuses on available information and data rather than what is needed. The most evident inadequacy with this is that they fail to address the need of the project maker involved in project planning. The focus of baseline is thereby perceived as a major problem confronting EIA practitioners.
Time and resources constraint: Both time and financial constraints maybe difficult to cope with. The developer often has to pay for these data. This step, frequently account for a lager part of the overall cost of EIA process (Wathern, 1992). Baseline studies require a whole lot of time hence delay on the project may arise and also as noted earlier, surveys are seasonally dependent. For instance, ecology data which usually requires about 12 months to establish. A case study review found that absence of existing air quality, noise and water quality, increased resources and delayed EIA project. (Andre et al., 2004).
Data availability and quality: Recent research by Carroll and Turpin (2009) found that there is needs now to provide much more information than was than that required by the UK government in the 1980s. Hence, because of this great quantity of data required, data is not often available. It is also widely recognised that likely future evolution is difficult to predict as trends are not often available.
Moreover, inadequate understanding of relative roles of baseline description (UNEP, 2004) may be perceived to be of great problem limiting its consideration in practice.
3.5 Critical review
Even a cursory glance at recent writing on EIA shows that the issue of baseline in EIA is not a major focus for EIA practitioners and researchers. It was indicated in the literature that baseline is incorporated into EIA and plays an important role in the process. As well as being, intensive, and time consuming, an early initiation of the step would avoid delay in decision making. Apparently, there's no doubt that the assessment of baseline is important, impact assessment is considered the major objective of EIA process, baseline is important because it helps provide all the necessary data required for impact assessment. This has been the major role identified with baseline. Its relationship with other EIA steps such as post EIA studies, mitigation, and consideration of alternatives has been given limited attention. A great number of reports and articles on EIA process (DCLG 2006b; FAO, 2006; IEMA, 2002; Morrison Saunders and Arts, 2004) omit the baseline stage while outlining the key steps of EIA process although it's often incorporated into scoping stage. In addition, the approach to baseline established by Canter (1996) could be criticised for not including a clear purpose of the selected environmental components as well as the baseline steps identified by Lawrence (2003) which failed to identify the likely evolution of baseline study while outlining its steps. Evidence till date, still suggests that lack of consideration of baseline especially the likely future evolution should be given more attention (Wood et al., 2007). This is very important as it forms a basis upon which the future environmental effects of different options are assessed. As a matter of fact, overall in depth study on baseline studies has been neglected. Except for the work of Wathern, 1992; Canter 1996; Glasson et al., 2005 there's has been little substantial investigation into this area. Although, several researchers (Carroll and Turpin, 2009; Wood 2003; Lawrence, 2003; Shepherd, 2006) have reported significant gains of baseline in theory, only very few has reported its gains in practice. However, studies would have been more convincing if they had carried out more research on its general influence on fundamental purposes of EIA rather than restricting it to assessment of effects. This perhaps would expose it's importance in outcome of EIA process.
This chapter has addressed EIA and its preliminary step, baseline assessment. Placing baseline in the EIA legislative context. Although the directive did not specifically refer to baseline in EIA, it did refer to presentation of data used to assess potential impacts, limitations of information gathered and likely future condition of the existing environment. The discussion has outlined baseline relationship with other EIA steps in detail, with particular focus on its benefits to the process. It revealed that importance of baseline depends on the stage of the EIA they are used. The main benefits attached to baseline studies include its support for impacts assessment. Different approach are used in establish baseline information. Although it is acknowledge that baseline environment is broad, input from scoping consultation can help in identifying the key environmental components and therefore scope out any irrelevant issues. However issues such as definition, cost, and resource and time constraint surrounding EIA processes have been identified with baseline. Good practice and future directions have been addresses far less. It seems that theory is fairly clear while practice is still rather misty. Literature could also be criticised for limited investigation into this area. The following chapter tries to establish in detail the first stage of the methodology which requires establishment of good quality baseline and also effectiveness of the EIA in order to examine the former influence on the later.Screening: a process deciding if EIA is required or not by limiting the application of EIA to specific projects that could develop significant environmental impacts
Definitions of key terms
Scoping: process identifying the key /important environmental issues at an early stage
Description of project and alternatives: includes a clear purpose of proposed project and also an understanding of its various characteristics.
Identification of impacts ensuring that all potentially significant environmental impacts ….are identified and considered.
Impact prediction: identifies the magnitude and other dimensions of identified change in the environment with a project.
Evaluation and assessment of significance of impacts: assesses the significance of the predicted impacts to allow a focus on the precise adverse impacts.
Mitigation measures: explores measures to avoid reduce remedy or compensate for any significant adverse impacts''
Consultation: involve s both statutory and non statutory interested bodies' members of the public consulted during the EIA process. aim to ensure the quality, comprehensiveness and effectiveness of the EIA and that the public 's views are adequately taken into consideration
Evaluation: Evaluation is a term much used in planning and policy for the generic process of gathering structuring analysing and appraising information. Evaluation explicitly involves value judgements. It often relates to subjective policy oriented judgements rather than purely scientific and technical analysis.( Arts et al 2001).
Monitoring: collection of data on a range of specific environmental variables.
Mitigation: includes the three keys avoiding, reduce and remedying the potential significant adverse impacts avoiding
Environmental statement: report where the EIA is documented. Seen as a vital step in the EIA process
Review of ES: involves a systematic appraisal of the quality of the ES.
Decision making: requires the consideration of the development by the planning /relevant authority
Guidance: usually produced and issued by the responsible EIA administrative or expert body and should provide clear and authoritative interpretation of the actions to be taken and by whom.(UNEP 2004)
Post-decision audits involves the recording of outcomes associated with development impacts.
Developer: also known as proponent, petitioner, and initiator. The applicant for authorization for a private project or the public authority which initiates a project ( European commission 2001)
Effect/impact: Any change in the physical, natural, or cultural environment brought about by a development project. Effect and impact are used interchangeably.
Audit of predictions and mitigation: may involve comparing actual outcomes withy that of the predicted
Competent authority: those which the member state selected and assumed the responsibility for performing the duties arising from the directive.(European Commission, 2001)
Project the execution of construction works or other installations or schemes and other interventions in the natural surroundings and landscape including those involving the extraction of mineral resources. (European Commission, 2001).