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Coronavirus can spur environmental impact assessment reform

Out-Law News | 11 Jun 2020 | 1:23 pm | 1 min. read

Permanent and positive changes can be made to the way developers carry out environmental impact assessments (EIAs) in light of challenges posed by the coronavirus crisis, according to a new guide produced in collaboration between international law firm Pinsent Masons and engineering company Arup.

The guide, entitled ‘Robust EIA During Covid-19 and Beyond - A Catalyst for Change’, contains recommendations for how the EIA process can respond to the immediate and longer-term challenges caused by the coronavirus pandemic, and support the continued delivery of major infrastructure in the UK.

Long term innovation in EIAs can stem from practical solutions that the guide promotes to address the risks for robust EIA during the ongoing pandemic, according to planning law specialist Gordon McCreath of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.

"The pandemic has already altered the economy and our society and may in some respects alter them permanently," said McCreath. "This has implications for every stage of the EIA process, from building a need case and undertaking strategic assessment, to sustainable design, developing appropriate mitigation and engaging with and consulting the public. We are encouraging clients to proactively manage the risks but also consider the positive opportunities this brings."

Pinsent Masons and Arup decided to collaborate on a guide after receiving numerous requests for advice on EIAs in recent months in light of the challenges the coronavirus poses to the process. Queries have ranged from changes in traffic affecting the definition of a robust baseline, to social distancing impacting effective consultation on environmental information. The guide addresses each of the issues and identifies both the challenges and solutions at each stage of the EIA process common to all major infrastructure consenting routes. This includes applications under the Planning Act 2008 and the Transport and Works Act 1992. The paper is relevant to promoters, interested parties and decision makers involved in infrastructure consenting.

"We believe many of the solutions identified in the guide present opportunities for permanent improvement in how EIA is delivered in the UK," said Richard Greer, director at Arup. "To ensure these opportunities are not lost, we have prepared this guide to generate conversation, and want to hear the views of other stakeholders engaged in infrastructure consenting."

Additional reporting by Sheelagh MacGregor of Pinsent Masons. To contact Sheelagh about this guide, and to be involved in any follow up activities or discussions with Pinsent Masons and Arup on the future of EIA and related assessments, please email [email protected]