JOHN ZETTER, PLANNING DIRECTORATE,
This paper covers two techniques which can be used by public authorities, in consultation with the general public, to achieve acceptable forms of environmentally sound industrial development. The first of these is environment impact assessment for industrial projects. The second technique applies to the preparations of plans which indicate the location of sites for industry.
Environment Impact Assessment
Environmental impact assessment is a technique for ensuring that the likely significant effects of new development on the environment are fully understood and taken into account before it is allowed to go ahead. Environmental assessment describes the whole process by which information about the environmental effects of an industrial project is collected, assessed and taken into account by public authorities in reaching a decision on whether the proposed development should go ahead or not.
An environmental statement is a publicly available document setting out the developer's own assessment of the likely environmental effects of a proposed development, which is prepared and submitted in conjunction with the application for permission for develop. It is important that developers prepare the environmental statements because this obliges them to consider the environmental effects of their proposals while they are being prepared. This means that environmentally sound technology and mitigation measures can be included in the design of the project, rather than added on afterwards.
While the responsibility for compiling the environmental statement rests with developers, they are expected to consult those with relevant information. Public authorities who have such information in their possession are required to make it available to the developer.
Most environmental impact assessment systems have two approaches. Certain developments require environmental assessment in every case. For example these include major chemical plants and steelworks. Other industrial projects for which environmental impact assessment is required are only for cases where the particular project in question is judged likely to give rise to significant environmental effects. Examples are metal processing, and chemical, food, textile and rubber industries. Thresholds are often used to establish whether assessment should be required for special types of project which are likely to have a significant effect on the environment.
There are three main considerations to be taken into account in judging whether the impacts are likely to be significant. First the question needs to be asked whether the project is a major one of more than local importance, especially in terms of its size. Secondly it needs to be established whether the project is intended for a particularly sensitive location, such as a national park or a site of special scientific interest. For that reason the proposed industrial development may have significant effects on the environment, even though the development is on a smaller scale. The third consideration which needs to be taken into account is whether the project is thought likely to give rise to particularly complex or adverse effects. These include the discharge of particular pollutants.
Developers can decide for themselves whether projects fall within the scope of the statutory provisions and that an environmental statement will be needed. But there also needs to be a procedure which enables a developer to apply to the public authority for an opinion on whether environmental impact assessment is needed in a particular case. For this purpose basic information about the proposal needs to be provided. More often it will fall to the public authorities to consider whether environmental impact assessment is required, when a particular development project is submitted to them. A developer who is dissatisfied with the local view that environmental assessment is required may refer the matter to a higher authority for decision.
There were several advantages to undertaking environmental impact assessment. For the local authority and other public bodies with environmental responsibilities, environmental impact assessment provides a basis for better decision making. For developers, the process should draw their attention at an early stage to the environmental effects of their proposals so that they can incorporate remedial measures into their designs. This contributes directly to environmentally sound industries. To the extent that implications of proposed new development have been more thoroughly analysed and more comprehensive information has been provided before a relevant application to develop it is made swifter decisions may also be possible at the final stage.
The general public's interest in proposed new development is often expressed as concerns about the possibility of unknown or unforeseen effects. Providing a full analysis of the proposal's likely effects an environmental statement can help to allay fears created by lack of information. At the same time it can help to inform the public on the main issues which the public authority will have to consider in reaching a decision on whether to allow or refuse the proposed development. The general public is often a good source of ideas for how an industrial development can be made more environmentally sound. All environmental statements must include a description of the project and a summary of its likely effects in non-technical language to help the general public understand the full facts of the case.
The procedures outlined above apply to major projects whose likely effects require systematic and detailed assessment. But even where environmental impact assessment is not legally required, environmental effects will always be among the considerations taken into account by public authorities in deciding whether or not to grant permission for industrial development.
Environmental appraisal of development plans
Public awareness of environmental issues has increased markedly in recent years. There is now widespread public concern about the quality of towns and cities and countryside and the adverse effects of new industrial development. For this reason public authorities should carry out an environmental appraisal as part of the process of preparing plans. A systematic appraisal requires that the environmental implications of all policies are assessed and this assessment should be included where appropriate in the documents which explain and justify the plan's policies.
The concept of sustainable development is based on the principle of stewardship and responsibility in the use and management of resources and achieving a balance between economic growth and technical development and environmental considerations. The economic growth which is needed to give people the means to live better and healthier lives has to respect the environment as well as being soundly based so that it can last. But in meeting current needs what is valued most about the built and natural environment should be protected, and future wellbeing should not be prejudiced nor sacrificed for short-term gain.
In the context of the system for granting permission for development, this is about recognising that the sum total of decisions about development should not deny future generations the best of today's environment. This means being particularly aware of the impacts of development on the environment which may be irreversible or very difficult to undo. Translated into the preparation of plans for industrial development, these issues need to be reflected in policies and proposals which overall make adequate provision for development and at the same time take account of the need to protect the natural and built environment. This is a further way of ensuring environmentally sound industries.
A particularly important emerging issue is the control of pollution. The way such concerns should be included in development plans needs a sensible distinction between strategic development control policies and those which are more locally based. The possible pollution effects from proposed development are an important consideration in sofar as they effect the development and use of land.
A related topic is the location and relocation of hazardous development. The plan should indicate general locations where hazardous development may be acceptable. Criteria for the control of hazardous development and development within the vicinity of hazardous installations are appropriate measures for detailed development plans.
Ecological considerations have traditionally been incorporated in restraint policies in plans for development. However, with the growing strength of wildlife preservation groups and the increasing awareness of environmental issues, a wider range of ecological matters is now being addressed in plans. Examples are wildlife corridors based on open land along rivers or on hedge systems and woodland areas. Ecological diversity can also be promoted in plans by protecting key areas. Preventing industrial development for such reasons is an additional method of achieving development in other areas where it is more soundly based.
To an increasing degree new industries require an attractive location both for their plant and their workers. For this reason the environmental quality of an area is very important for its economic future.
Encouragement and economic incentives can go a certain way to securing environmentally sound industries. However, it has been shown that stricter regulations also force the pace of innovation and the adoption of clean industrial practices and technologies. For this reason the environmental appraisal of development plans, affecting the basic location of industry, and the environmental impact assessment of particular projects are both important techniques for contributing to industrial development which respects the environment in particular local areas.
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