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IEMA survey highlights Brexit environmental concerns

A poll carried out by the Institute of Environmental Management & Assessment (IEMA) has revealed a concern about how environmental issues could be dealt with as part of infrastructure policy if the UK left the EU.

The poll surveyed around 1,200 UK ‘green’ professionals to gauge the potential impact on the environment and sustainability of a Brexit vote in the EU referendum to be held on 23 June.

Two thirds of those surveyed believe that the UK’s exit would lead to environmental concerns being taken into account in infrastructure planning would be scaled back or cut completely.

The view of half of IEMA’s respondents is that a Brexit vote would also see the opportunities for the public and local communities to engage with the planning process on new infrastructure projects that could potentially have an impact on their lives would be reduced. 43% felt that the current process would stay the same, while only 7% felt the process would be improved.

81% of those surveyed said that European laws and regulations are vital in giving them a framework to be able to provide environmental protection and improvements.

Martin Baxter, IEMA’s Chief Policy Advisor said: “Environment and Sustainability Professionals recognise the importance of EU policy and regulation in helping to drive environmental improvements.  Whichever way the vote goes, it is essential that environmental issues continue to be factored into infrastructure decision making and that those potentially affected are given opportunities to participate.”

In terms of biodiversity, 93% think that work to stop and reverse it are best dealt with within (80%) or aligned to (13%) EU policy frameworks. Only 7% believe that the loss of biodiversity would be best addressed with UK policy being outside EU policy regimes.

60% believe that there will be a lower level of legal protection for wildlife and habitats if the UK was to vote for a Brexit.

Recent years has seen the Common Agricultural Policy increase environmental management and protection requirements linked to payment support to farmers. 69% said a vote to leave the EU would mean environmental requirements associated with payments to support UK farmers would most likely be reduced or removed.

In 2014, the EU Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) directive was amended to introduce new requirements to harmonise EIA between EU Member States, streamline the process to reduce burden, and introduce basic quality requirements across the European Union.

80% of respondents said they think that the EIA Directive has improved how environmental issues are considered in development consent decisions for major infrastructure projects.

When asked about who should be covered by “competent experts” cited in the amended EIA directive, the results said:

  • 61% believe that the EIA co-ordinator and the lead on each environmental topic area (e.g. ecology, air quality) should demonstrate they are a “competent expert”;
  • 8% believe it should be limited to just the EIA co-ordinator having to demonstrate they are a “competent expert”;
  • 31% believe that everyone making a contribution to the EIA process should demonstrate that they are a “competent expert”.

IEMA gives the majority of EIA related CPD in the UK and manages the individual EIA register and the EIA Quality Mark scheme (for organisations that co-ordinate UK EIA).  Given the new requirement for EIA Reports to be produced by “competent experts”, the survey revealed:

  • 64% believe this should be a member of any relevant professional body with sufficient EIA expertise
  • 19% believe only IEMA members who can demonstrate sufficient EIA experience and expertise should be considered to be competent experts for UK EIA
  • 10% believe only IEMA members who are registered on the individual EIA Register should be considered to be “competent experts” for UK EIA
  • 7% believe anyone with CEnv status should be considered as being a “competent expert” to undertake EIAs

Currently the European Commission is reviewing the Strategic Environmental Assessment directive to decide whether it needs amendment /updating since it was published in 2001.  75% of respondents expressed the opinion that it should be amended.