Concepts, processes and systems for environmental assessment

This week’s question focuses on the concepts, processes and systems for environmental assessment (T028 Environmental Assessment). Level 1 is quite challenging and requires a good all round knowledge of the subject. At levels 2 and 3 you must refer to projects you have been involved in personally.

Level 1

Question Can you explain to me what you understand by the term environmental assessment and the framework of regulations, codes and law that require them to be undertaken?

Sample Response

This is a broad question that aims to cover most of the ground set out in the competency. So a clear structure is required for the answer. You could respond under the following headings:

• Types of Environmental Assessment

• Formal Environmental Impact Assessment

• The Regulatory Framework

For each heading key areas to discuss are noted below.

Types of Environmental Assessment

At a conceptual level, an environmental assessment is a review and appraisal of the environmental impacts of a project. It will generally be undertaken early in the project and will look at a range of areas where the scheme may have adverse or beneficial impacts on the environment. The objective of the assessment is to fully understand these impacts and seek to minimise them through the design and implementation process, whilst at the same time achieving any predetermined environmental related performance targets.

Under the generic heading of environmental assessment there are a wide range of approaches that could be taken. However in the UK built environment, the more common assessments would include:

o BREEAM Ratings

o Code for Sustainable Homes Ratings

o Energy Performance Certificates

o Environmental Impact Assessments

Environmental Impact Assessments

Although there is a range of ways of assessing environmental impact, the term ‘Environmental Assessment’ is more formally taken to mean the assessment(s) undertaken to ensure that a new development project aligns with the requirements of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Regulations.

The assessment is undertaken early on in the project and is usually led by the lead planning consultant. It would often involve the following parties; architect, drainage engineers, flood risk experts, ecologists, landscape architects and transport planners. Other specialists may also be involved, such as hydro-geologists, air quality scientists, noise experts and contaminated land specialists who may be required to deal with particular key issues relating to the nature and location of the development proposal.

The Regulatory Framework

Environmental Impact Assessments are undertaken to ensure that new developments align with the requirements of the Environmental Impact Regulations (Statutory Instrument 1999 No. 293 The Town and Country Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) (England and Wales) Regulations 1999). These regulations dictate which types of development are required to be subjected to Environmental Impact Assessment and set out the procedure that must be followed before the scheme is granted development consent. This regulatory requirement originates from a European Directive (85/33/EEC as amended by 97/11/EC).

BREEAM (BRE Environmental Assessment Method) is an environmental ‘label’ for buildings, and is typically used as the UK benchmark for building environmental performance. BREEAM is often a mandatory requirement for new buildings, in particular those procured by the public sector, and the level of performance is generally mandated by the client or funding party. There are 11 versions of BREEAM; each is tailored to the specific needs of particular buildings types. BREEAM assessors award points in nine environmental categories and a rating of Pass (25%+), Good (40-55%), Very Good (55-70%, Excellent (70-85%) or Outstanding (85%+) is awarded. EcoHomes and, more latterly, assessments under the Code for Sustainable Homes are similar environmental ‘labels’ for residential properties.

Energy Performance Certificates and Display Energy Certificates are new requirements that have arisen from the implementation of the European Performance of Buildings Directive. The timetable for their delivery is dependant upon building scale, occupancy and accessibility (i.e. larger buildings accessible to the public are required to implement the Directive in advance of other building types).

Level 2

Question Can you explain how these requirements apply in practice to a project type that you are familiar with?

Sample Response

Level 2 requires you to demonstrate you can apply the above conceptual knowledge in practice. You should outline a project type that you will base your answer on and then provide some specific detail about how and when the environmental assessment process interplays with the project life cycle.

For the purpose of this sample answer we will take a major mixed use development on a brown field site in an urban area close to a river. Key issues with this particular development could include; intensification of use with associated increased road traffic, congestion, air quality emission, contamination of the river, noise and surface water run-off attenuation problems.

Under the Environmental Impact Regulations this scheme would be identified as requiring an Environmental Impact Assessment. This would be identified early in the project feasibility by either the client or the professional team.

Under the procedures the developer would be required to compile an ‘Environmental Statement’ (ES) describing the likely significant effects of the development on the environment and proposed mitigation measures. The Environmental Statement must be circulated to statutory consultation bodies and made available to the public for comment. The Environmental Statement would be submitted with the planning application and it, together with any comments made, would be taken into account by the competent authority (eg local planning authority) before the decision regarding the granting of planning consent.

The preparation of the assessment would normally be led by one of the professional team and may involve the co-ordination of a number of parties including the architect, drainage engineers, transport planner and the like. Additionally there may be a requirement for input from a range of specialists such as hydro-geologists, air quality scientists, ecology advisers, noise experts and contaminated land experts. The areas to be investigated are identified in a ‘Scoping Report’ compiled at the start of the assessment where all the potential areas of environmental impact are reviewed and either deemed not applicable to the development or requiring more detailed investigation.

The outputs of an Environmental Impact Assessment include the Scoping Report, a non technical executive summary, and further detailed chapters and supporting reports for each of the relevant technical disciplines.

Level 3

Question Can you talk me though an example of an instance where you have provided reasoned advice to a client in relation to the preparation and production of reports based on appropriate environmental assessments?

Sample Response

The examiner in this case is not asking you to show that you have undertaken the technical work involved in an environmental assessment, but instead they are looking for an example where you advised the client based on the outcomes of an assessment.

A typical response would have to be based on your own experience but issues to cover would include:

• The project type

• Where the requirement for an assessment originated from

• Who undertook the assessment

• The type of assessment

• Why the chosen methodology was deemed suitable for the project

• Which regulations set out the requirement for the assessment

• Key issues raised in the assessment and how the report was distributed and used

• Examples where cost advice was given on options to deal with any of the issues raised in the report

• Examples of how some of those issues were taken into account in the subsequent development of the scheme including details of how they were presented to the client and any changes approved