Blog: 20 July 2016Brexit: The future for EIA

Lucy Wood

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Lucy Wood

Environmental Planning Director

London office

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The result of the EU referendum last month has triggered a wave of uncertainty concerning Britain’s influence on global issues such as trade, business and immigration. However, other areas of concern centre around the future of environmental protection and legislation within the UK and specifically the application of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) within the planning process.

So why do we have EIA and where did it originate? Since the early 1970s, environmental policies have developed within the EU and have led to the implementation of EU Directives which have been transposed into UK law. The first EIA Directive was influenced by EIA in the USA, which dates back to 1969, and was introduced to ensure that the environmental implications of major development decisions are taken into account before the consenting decision is made. The UK has been a key player in the development of environmental protection law, including EIA within the EU.

In the immediate aftermath of last month’s referendum, the legislative positioning of the UK with regards to environmental protection is yet to be confirmed. Following invocation of Article 50, negotiations will begin with a view to agreeing the political positioning of the UK within two years. In the short to medium term, the application of EIA is unlikely to change, the UK EIA Regulations still apply and a new Act of Parliament would be required to repeal them. However, the 2014 EU EIA Directive is now unlikely to be transposed into UK law. This would have introduced more onerous requirements relating to assessing climate change and health effects and commitments to monitoring significant effects, so will be welcomed by developers.

In the longer term, what will not change is the understanding that EIA remains an effective tool in the planning process. The process allows for an independent assessment of environmental effects. It ensures that effects are addressed under one umbrella, facilitating a more collective approach to mitigation and considering other committed developments when assessing effects. Developments informed by EIA tend to be more sustainable and benefit from efficiencies with respect to multifunctional spaces – for floodwater attenuation, biodiversity enhancement, recreation and climate change adaptation, for example. EIA also provides a robust and accessible assessment to support larger projects with complex issues and provides transparent, justified conclusions.

If applied correctly, EIA can lead to better places for people to live and work and, therefore, to better investments. Perhaps this is an opportunity to re-focus EIA on those projects that are likely to give rise to significant effects on the environment and consider how it can add even more value to new developments rather than increase the burden, time and cost on developer, determining authority, statutory consultee and sometimes the taxpayer when decisions are made by a Planning Inspector or the Secretary of State.  We have already seen the Government raise the screening thresholds for certain EIA development, which has helped reduce the administrative and cost burden for all involved. Maybe Brexit is our chance to further improve EIA for those projects that really need it and benefit from the process. This would help us to plan sustainable and economically productive communities as Britain enters this new phase.

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EIA, Brexit, EU Referendum