966: The latest on environmental impact assessment reform
This week’s entry is a round-up of the latest on the moves to replace environmental impact assessment (EIA).
I held a webinar this week on this topic and there is clearly great interest – more than 600 people signed up to attend. If you didn’t attend, let me know [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org] and you can get a copy of the slides and a recording of the webinar once available (first dibs to those who did attend, though!).
The story so far is that the proposals to replace EIA with ‘Environmental Outcomes Reports’ are contained in Part 5 of the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill (which we are all calling the LURB), currently in its committee stage in the House of Commons. On 8 September it considered Part 5, and it got through without any amendments. You can see the Hansard report here, and the comments from the minister (Paul Scully) particularly when addressing whether the clauses ‘stand part’ of the Bill, are worth reading for the government’s intentions.
Meanwhile, a consultation is due on how it will all work but has not come out yet and although originally expected this summer may not even be this year. Once the LURB is enacted – if the LURB is enacted – regulations will be published setting out the process.
Meanwhile meanwhile, the Growth Plan 2022, as reported in the last blog, promises a ‘Planning and Infrastructure Bill’ that will ‘minimise the burden of environmental assessments’. That may mean the LURB provisions are dropped, modified, or continue as currently proposed.
If they continue, or are modified in detail rather than in principle, then it is worth knowing what an Environmental Outcomes Report might look like. The whole idea is that where a traditional Environmental Statement measures a project against a baseline environment and its impacts on that environment, an EOR will measure a project against government measures to improve the environment, the outcomes. It is therefore a more dynamic concept than went before.
A good example of an outcome is the current air quality target for nitrogen dioxide, which is an annual concentration of no more than 40 micrograms in a cubic metre of air across the country. It has not been achieved everywhere, and a project cannot slow down achievement in the shortest possible time nor turn achievement into non-achievement. I think the outcomes in EORs will be of this nature.
I think that the other outcomes will be similar to the ‘targets’ in the 25-year Environment Plan, but many will need to be adapted to be more tangible. References to ‘indicators’ rather than ‘targets’ in the plan don’t seem right to me as they are just subject headings like ‘emissions of key pollutants’. The outcomes themselves will also be subject to consultation. It is going to be difficult to pitch them so they are not so vague and national that any particular project has no significant effect on them but not so precise and hard-edged that there are millions of them at a granular level and no project can avoid impacting them.
EORs must declare whether their projects will help achievement of the outcomes, or if not, avoid slowing down achievement, or if not propose mitigation to prevent slowing down achievement. If there are still residual effects on the outcomes, the final two steps are ‘remedies’ and ‘compensation’.
There is also an emphasis on setting out alternatives (which I don’t think is phrased quite right in the bill) and monitoring – not just that you do what you promised, but that it works.
That’s my take on EORs, but to be taken with a Siberia-worth of salt.