Environmental impact assessment is a tool used in identifying and evaluating the environmental effects that are likely to arise from a major proposed project (Morris & Therivel, 2009). The purpose of EIA is to supply or aid decision makers in making appropriate decision regarding the environmental impact of proposed projects. In order words, its aim is to provide decision makers such as the Local Authority a systematic examination of the environmental implications of a proposed action and sometimes alternatives before a decision is taken (Jay et al, 2007). Also, environmental impact assessment aim, in the United Kingdom, is to assist in the formulation of development actions and it is an instrument for providing sustainable development (Jay et al, 2007). This essay is a critical review of the process of environmental impact assessment in the UK.
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Environmental Impact Assessment has been implemented in the UK since the 1980s through secondary legislation involving regulations and guidance, the most important being the Town and Country Planning (Assessment of Environmental Effects) Regulations 1988 (Statutory Instrument 1199, DoE, 1989), which constitutes the principal means of implementation of Directive 85/337/EC (Piper, 2001). Under these regulations, Environmental Impact Assessment is carried out at local level, within the planning system, where the Local Planning Authority (LPA) is the competent authority playing the central institutional role (Piper, 2001). Currently, Town and Country Planning (Assessment of Environmental Effects) Regulations 1988 has been replaced by Town and Country Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations 1999 (Amended) (Salvador, Glasson, & Piper, 2000).
The process of environmental impact assessment in the United Kingdom involves various stages such as screening of projects, scoping, establishing environmental baseline, impact identification, impact prediction, evaluation and mitigation, participation, presentation and review, monitoring and auditing after review (Morris & Therivel, 2009). The people involved in the process of environmental impact assessment in the UK are the Local Authorities which are the planning department, the property developers, statutory consultees, central government, non statutory consultees and the public(Morris & Therivel, 2009).
First stage of environmental impact assessment is the screening of projects; it seeks to focus on projects with potentially significant adverse environmental impact (Glasson et al, 2005). The next step after the screening of project is the scoping process. Scoping is the process of identifying and assigning priority to the issues associated with a project for the purpose of focusing the impact assessment to be conducted. In summary, scoping is a process that determines what significant issues the nature and extent of ecological data to be collected and assessed (reference it). Establishing environmental baseline; this process includes both the present and likelihood future state of the environment assuming that the project is not undertaken, taking into account changes resulting from natural events and from other human activities (reference). Impact identification brings together project characterization and baseline environmental aim of ensuring that all potentially significant environmental impacts are identified and taken into account (reference). Impact prediction, evaluation and mitigation is the heart of environmental impact assessment, its objective is to provide the basis for assessing significance, assess the relative impact of the significance and to put measures to avoid, reduce and if possible remedy significant adverse effect (reference). The next process is the participation, presentation and review of environmental statement; it is aimed at providing information about a proposal’s likely environmental impacts to the developer, the public and decision makers so that a better decision is made (reference).
Since the introduction of environmental impact assessment in the United Kingdom, there have been great achievements towards reducing the environmental effects of projects but there are still arguments regarding the way environmental impact assessment process in the UK is practised.
Weston (2000) was of the view that screening process of EIA in the UK is not clearly defined. According to Weston, the UK’s 1988 environmental impact assessment procedures established a threshold approach to determine whether a development project should be subject to environmental impact assessment. Firstly, there is a Schedule I to the Regulations which lists all those projects which are above set thresholds and are of regional or wider importance and for which EIA is mandatory in all cases and secondly, there is a Schedule II list which sets out all those projects which only require an EIA to be carried out where there are likely to be ‘significant’ environmental effects and where the Local Planning Authority have deemed it necessary for the developer to submit an Environmental Statement with their planning application. However, Weston (2000) argued that the term ‘Significant’ is rarely defined in the context of the UK’s legal system and its use has caused problems.
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The next step after the screening of project is the scoping process. Portman (2009) stated that scoping is frequently viewed as the most important stage in determining the quality of the assessment of EIA, but it has also been identified as EIA most problematic phase and has been under researched. Currently, scoping process in environmental impact assessment is not a legally mandated process in United Kingdom (Morris & Therivel, 2009). Some inefficiency of scoping process has been identified by researches conducted on scoping activities in the UK. According to Glasson (1999), environmental impact assessment scoping process is supposed to include various actors such as the developers, the general public and the regulators at various levels of government, but in the UK, scoping process is too developer oriented, thereby limiting the role given to the public. Glasson was of the view that developers are unlikely to predict that the project they are proposing to develop might be an environmental disaster since they are more concerned about saving cost. Studies carried out on the limitations of public participation on scoping exercise in the UK, showed that poor provision of basic information of a proposed project to the public by the developers was a barrier to effective public participation in decision making (Wood & Hartley, 2005), United Kingdom Environmental Impact Assessment Regulation was also blamed for the cause of ineffective public participation in scoping exercise. For instance, in a complex waste project, UK EIA regulation requires a period of 21 days for public comment, which according to Wood and Hartly is perceived to be too short to allow the public participate effectively (Wood & Hartley, 2005). Results of investigation carried out by Wood, Glasson and Becker on the assessment of scoping activities in England and Wales, showed that the Local Planning Authorities (LPAs) which are the authorities with power of regulation are often under resourced and lacking in experience of environmental impact assessment activities (Wood, Glasson & Becker, 2005). The results of the investigation showed that it is a particular case for non metropolitan district councils which receive very few request for scoping opinions each year. Wood, Glasson and Becker (2005) concluded that the lack of developers’ consultation with competent authorities and the general public is the principal limitation to effective EIA in the UK.
Environmental Impact Statement presentation and review is a vital step in the process of EIA in the UK and if done badly, may result in negating of the good work (Glasson, Therivel & Chadwick, 2005). A review of environmental impact statements produced for a variety of development type in Britain from the period of 1988-1993 demonstrated that there are number of shortcomings in the assessment of ecological impacts for EIA. The results showed that most environmental impact statement did not comply with EC directive (85/337), which clearly states a requirement to consider impacts on the flora and fauna associated with proposed development (Thompson, Treweek & Thurling, 1997). According to the review of environmental impact statements in the British forest sector from 1988-1998, the results showed that the standard was generally poor and the environmental impact statement presented limited useful additional information to decision makers. A fundamental recurrent issue was the failure to adequately scope assessments, leading to unfocused baseline data collection, inadequate identification of impact, and inadequate determination of impact significance (Gray & Edward-Jones, 2003).
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