The new EIA Regulations were introduced in May 2017. Scotland’s 2018 EIA Community Conference provided interesting insights into the state of EIA one year on.
A recurring theme was concern about disproportionate EIA.
The example was given of a wind farm (not identified) where variations to the design resulted in an application to vary the consent, and the regulator was asking for almost a total re-run of the EIA undertaken for the initial consent application.
A fear of legal challenge appears to be one of the causes of disproportionate EIA. However, recent research suggests that fear is misplaced, as there is a very low success rate for judicial review of Scottish planning decisions.
The approach to multi-stage projects has developed in an unplanned manner through court decisions. There was an interesting suggestion that it was time for this to be re-thought.
The current approach relies on assumptions, including the “Rochdale envelope”. If an EIA is too reliant on assumptions about details of the project, is that EIA worthwhile? Or should issues be scoped out, to be dealt with later in the process?
Wind farm projects have driven an exponential growth in heritage chapters, assessing the impact on setting of cultural heritage assets.
The new edition of the SNH/ HES EIA Handbook, launched at the conference, includes a cultural heritage impact assessment appendix, to promote consistent, transparent and proportionate approaches.
Human health is one of the new topics introduced by the 2017 Regulations. However, aspects of health have previously been addressed under other topics, for example, air quality. That makes it difficult to identify when health, in its own right, should be scoped into an EIA; and also what specific aspects of health should be assessed for an individual project. There is a risk of a default position emerging, that all aspects of health should be assessed for every EIA development.
If health is scoped into the EIA, that suggests the need for a separate chapter in the EIA Report. Information can be used from other chapters, but there is a need to avoid health being dealt with in a passive manner. The health team need to interact with the other EIA teams.
Although the new Regulations have been in force for a year, it is clear that EIA practice will continue to evolve in coming years, as more good practice emerges.