This week we heard from Environment Secretary George Eustice on environmental recovery in a post COVID-19 and Brexit world. This builds upon his previous comments on potential changes to the environmental assessment regime having referred to it as, ‘clunky’ and ‘cumbersome’. A Government paper is due soon and consultation on EIA reform is expected in the autumn.
On the face of it this could sound alarm bells to environmental practitioners and campaigners. However, as always, the devil will be in the detail. Given the long history of environmental assessment practice both in the UK and globally it seems hard to imagine that EIA or indeed SEA would be greatly watered-down. The key will be for any reform to capitalise on the efforts to make EIA/SEA more proportionate, simpler where possible, and more focussed on the issues that really matter. As EIA and SEA practitioners we will have seen many outputs that are overly long and over scoped. Reform might even be an opportunity to put some of our emerging good practice into law. The Government’s comments about the importance of a natural capital approach are also positive and reflect emerging practice.
At this stage, it’s hard to say what will be proposed although we will be keen to scrutinise the consultation when it comes out and will be standing firmly on the side of promoting the vital benefits of a proportionate and pragmatic EIA/SEA system whilst helping eradicate the misconceptions around it. If the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us anything it is that major shocks such as this can stimulate rapid innovation and creativity. What we want to avoid is a, ‘baby being thrown out in the bathwater’ scenario where there is large scale de-regulation of the regime.
As a company Temple has a long association with EIA/SEA delivery for major infrastructure and our staff have strong views on where the processes can be further improved. We will be watching the situation keenly and hope to work with others to form a response to the consultation when it is released.