In the summer of 2021, a Government Review of how the UK’s most strategically important infrastructure projects receive planning consent was launched. This builds on the 2021 Planning White Paper with its vision to deliver a quicker and simpler framework for assessing environmental effects and to secure better outcomes for our environment.
This ambition is easy to understand. The review states that including pre-application, the average time taken to progress the past 30 Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIP) through the planning process was 44 months, with the length and inaccessibility of environmental statements one cause. As an example, the Environmental Statement for High Speed Two Phase 1 stood at over 50,000 pages.
Opportunities therefore need to be sought to balance a desire to increase the speed of determination and consenting of infrastructure and development without compromising the robust approach that underpins the UK’s global reputation for sustainable delivery.
Can digital EIAs provide one of the solutions?
A digital evolution in environmental impact assessments
Technology, like advanced data analysis and artificial intelligence, is now being harnessed not only to accelerate planning, but to optimise value around a project’s social, environmental and economic outcomes. These outcomes are locked in place during the planning process. At WSP, we have a digital advisory team who focus on unleashing the potential of digital in planning. They specialise in large-volume data management, validation, analysis, and digital visualisation using our own digital planning platform – PinPoint.
Digital EIA is revolutionising environmental assessments and is making the planning system more accessible for local planning authorities, communities and stakeholders to contribute to the conversations about determining consent for infrastructure and development. By more clearly representing the key environmental effects of infrastructure and development, digital EIA will support quicker and more efficient decision making.
Digital EIAs offer user-friendly interfaces that allow better access to information. Information is displayed via simple menu formats and maximises the use of more easily digestible media and visual tools like interactive maps, visualisations and embedded videos. Our PinPoint platforms also host opportunities for community feedback, as well as providing formal written assessments when this remains a statutory requirement.
Below are two examples of where WSP has worked collaboratively with our clients to deliver digital EIAs: