The UK’s plan for growth – built around building back better, greener and faster - reflects a measured urgency for investments in infrastructure development that will help to reshape and strengthen the economy in a way that delivers improvements to the natural environment and the health of our planet.
When developing proposals for transformative infrastructure - whether in energy, maritime transport, water, property or aviation - environmental impact assessments (EIA) are mandated to identify the key environmental effects of infrastructure development and set out the ways these effects can be avoided, reduced or mitigated. Importantly, opportunities for environmental gains are now an expectation.
As part of an operational review of Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIPs) announced in 2021, the Government has challenged those involved in infrastructure development to do better. They’re promoting a streamlined planning process with a clearer focus on design and sustainability with a quicker, simpler framework for assessing effects and enhancement opportunities.
If we are going to reshape the way that the UK plans, scopes and implements EIAs to make them simpler and quicker, particularly with a view to delivering better environmental outcomes, any initiative will need to become focused on being more:
- understandable for decision makers and stakeholders in crystallising salient information,
- effective for infrastructure promoters in expediently delivering sustainable development,
- efficient and professionally rewarding for those undertaking EIA.
In response to the operational review as well as challenges identified across our client base, WSP has developed our Future Ready EIA approach. We believe it reflects a more intuitive, accessible, and productive approach - a simpler one. Future Ready EIA will reshape the way that we deliver EIAs with our clients and ensure that our processes are ready for the challenges of tomorrow as well as those of today.
Our Future Ready EIA is based around seven steps:
- Leadership: Stronger management of the overall EIA, and of the environmental information that comes from it.
- Scoping: Use of a more comprehensive and bold scoping stage to determine what matters, before starting the EIA.
- Process: Shape and, where possible, simplify different assessment processes according to the needs of the infrastructure or development.
- Product: Prioritise the environmental statement as a communication product, and appoint the right team to deliver it including communications professionals, graphics, UX and UI designers.
- Digital: Digital EIA and the online environmental statement should be incorporated into the planning system as the standard product for EIA.
- Consolidate: Consolidation and integration of different assessment’s like SEA, ESIA, HIA, EqIA should be prioritised.
- Outcomes: The environmental and social objectives of infrastructure projects should be stated, and the EIA document framed around how these can be addressed.
As an industry, I believe we are all very aware of the clear need to improve the way the environment industry supports infrastructure development through conception, planning and delivery phases. But the government's operational review is an incentive to do something about it by reforming aspects of its objectives, process, products and outcomes. It is quite a challenge, but it is not one that is new to us.
At WSP, we are motivated to help our clients focus on long-term priorities, creating developments that foster pride in the direct and wider benefits they return to people and the environment. It is central to the way we shape infrastructure development to fit in - protecting the resources of land, air, water and nature, and the lives and cultures of the people that live and work in and around it. After all, it is what sustainable development is about.