Tuesday, 12th June 2018

Major Accidents and Disasters in EIA

Written by Katie Lidington, Principal Consultant 

Since the new Town and Country Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations (“the Regulations”) came into force a year ago, the EIA sector has been working hard to understand how major accidents and disasters can be reported within an Environmental Statement (ES). In implementing the new requirements, there is a need to quickly integrate consideration of the environmental effects of accidents and disasters into EIA. This needs to be done comprehensively and robustly, but without giving these effects, which by definition are rare occurrences, undue weight or focus.

The need to assess major accidents and disasters in EIA was first identified in Article 3 of the EIA Directive 2014/52/EU. This has now been transposed into UK Law by the revised EIA regulations on the 16th May 2017. The Part 1, (4) of the Regulations state that the EIA must identify, describe and assess expected significant effects arising from the vulnerability of the proposed development or major accidents or disasters. This is also mentioned again in Schedule 4, Part 8 which states:

“a description of the expected significant effects of the development on the environment deriving from the vulnerability of the proposed development to risks of major accidents and / or disasters which are relevant to the project concerned”.

Definitions for major accidents and disasters are widely available. However, the key is understanding what significance or risk these have for a particular project. If a development is not vulnerable to major accidents and disasters, then it is unlikely to lead to an event which would cause a significant effect. In the UK, the risk of natural disasters essentially is typically related to flooding, climate and wind events. These are already assessed within EIA where a significant risk is likely.

The Civil and Contingencies Act 2004 defines an emergency as “an event or situation which threatens serious damage to human welfare, environment or security in a place in the UK”. Every two years the UK Government produces a classified assessment of the risks facing people in the UK.  Consideration of how geographical extent, duration, sensitivity and severity affects the risks posed by accidents and disasters, needs to be taken into consideration and receptors defined and likelihood determined.

To ensure that an ES stays proportional, environmental effects of accidents and disasters should be reported alongside the routine effects arising during construction, operation and decommissioning of developments. This can be done either within each EIA topic chapter or could be provided in a separate chapter dealing with just this issue. Either way, the location of proposed developments, the likelihood of accidents and disasters occurring, and the significance of consequent environmental effects, must be clearly identified, together with measures for their mitigation as appropriate.

At Temple, we typically take a risk-based approach to assessing the environmental effects associated major accidents and disasters. This starts with defining which accidents and disasters are appropriate for particular projects along with key receptors. We recognise for many types of EIA development, safety is a key consideration in design and operation.  It is important that we don’t “reinvent the wheel”, or duplicate work done by safety professionals. For example, safety cases need to be prepared for installations in the nuclear, chemicals, offshore oil and gas, and railway sectors. The assessments of risk underpinning these provide an important source of information on which to base the assessment of consequent potential environmental effects.

The big question for the industry at the moment, is how this best relates to EIA and how we communicate the risk or significance to stakeholders. In the spirit of also achieving proportionate EIA, should it form a separate chapter or are we capturing these aspects in other sections already? Does this topic area even have a place in EIA?

The answer to the latter is certainly yes, in terms of the EIA Regulations, but there is still a question as to what extent it should be covered by a specific assessment and chapter within the ES or information simply drawn from other standard risk assessments.

A general consensus seems to be emerging that the risks of disaster or accidents probably are already captured elsewhere within the EIA. Disasters such as flooding, or the impacts of climate change are often already assessed within EIA, depending on the scale and nature of the proposed scheme. For road schemes, the likely impacts associated with road traffic accidents are captured within the transport assessment. For other accidents such as ground stability, fire, safety and security, pollution spills these are usually included within health and safety documents and safety by design principals and pollution prevention controls. Quantifying the risk of these, in EIA terms, would be extremely difficult.

How this topic is incorporated in to EIAs will differ depending on the sector you work in. What is certain though, is that the next few years will be interesting while experts across the industry try to understand the implications of the latest changes to the EIA Regulations. Watch this space.