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Low Hanging Fruit - Should we markedly distinguish LVIAs that are a part of an EIA from those that are not?

Thomas Robinson

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I have been discussing with a senior member of the LI what might constitute "low-hanging fruit" that could improve our use of GLVIA 3 without requiring its complete replacement.   One of the things that seems immediate is what is the difference between a stand alone LVIA that accompanies a planning application from those that are a part of a formal EIA?  This is a matter considered on pages 4 - 9 of the Ed3 and the distinction that emerges is one of terminology and purpose.  I think most practitioners are aware of the differences behind the use of such terms as "impact", "effect" and how we are not to use the term "significance" out with an EIA and so use the term "importance", but I doubt we have thought through the implications of having a methodology for use in an EIA that we then use in a non EIA report.

In an EIA, according to Ed3, the defining requirement is set out in the European Union Directive  2011/92/EU The assessment of the effects of certain public and private projects on the environment.  Obviously, since Brexit the overarching legislation has had to be turned into UK law and so the relevant legislation is the Town and Country Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations 2017.  But the intent is largely the same and that is (to quote Ed3), 2, "...the emphasis is on the identification of likely significant environmental effects."  The implication of this is that there are insignificant environmental effects and this is made clear in para 1.17 of Ed3:

"The Directive is clear that the emphasis is on the identification of likely significant  environmental effects. This should embrace all types of effect and includes, for example, those that are positive/beneficial and negative/adverse,  direct  and  indirect,  and  long and short term, as well as cumulative effects. Identifying significant effects stresses the need for an approach that is in proportion to the scale of the project that is being assessed and the nature of its likely effects. Judgement needs to be exercised at all stages in terms of  the scale  of investigation  that  is appropriate and  proportionate. This does not mean that effects should be ignored or their importance minimised but that the assessment should  be tailored  to the particular circumstances in each case. This applies to 'appraisals' of landscape and visual impact outside the formal requirements of EIA as well as those chat are part of a formal  assessment."

Hence the use of EIA screening, in which the significant areas of effect are agreed with the lpa; and in this process what "significant" means will be based upon professional judgement, lpa or public concerns and, ultimately, case law in planning in which the term "significance" has been tested.

But what is to underpin the definition of that which is important in an informal non EIA LVIA?  Obviously, part of it will be professional judgement and lpa or public concerns.  However, there is no underpinning as to what any of our synonyms in place of significant (such as "important") actually means.   I think this is where NPPF (and its equivalent documents in the devolved nations) comes into play.  Such planning policy guidance should be able to give each practitioner a framework in which to make judgements.  Clearly, it will not do all the heavy lifting, but it could give us all a dimension to work in and so avoid the proclivity to merely personal feeling.  Some landscape architects feel that their personal views are the same as professional views, but they should not be.  Landscape and visual impact issues are as important in a planning matter as society thinks: no more; no less.  The professional view requires an understanding of the site but also an understanding of the societal context in which we are expected to work.

There is no reference to NPPF in Ed3 because they were both being written at the same time and the writers of the latter were unaware of the content in the former.  But I note with some satisfaction that paragraph 1.5 on Ed3 specifically refers to "planning policy guidance" as being part of the framework within which EIAs are written; and I take this to be a validation of my point.

The easy hanging fruit would be to make explicit that NPPF applies to both EIA and non EIA LVIAs; and then to develop some Technical Notes on how that document affects what we do.

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