Is the plan to streamline EIAs working? | Infrastructure news

Chris Dalgliesh partner and principal environmental consultant at SRK Consulting

Chris Dalgliesh partner and principal environmental consultant at SRK Consulting

Regulations in place since December 2014 to streamline authorisations for Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) seem to have accelerated the pace at which most government departments provide the necessary comment – but there are some teething problems.

The new ‘One Environmental System’ hastens the official authorisation process by synchronising timeframes for a full suite of permitting requirements – including water, waste, air and heritage permits – with EIA authorisation timeframes.

According to SRK Consulting, the benefits have been greater certainty for developers and project managers, with clear milestones stipulated for decision-making processes. It also has successfully shifted the onus onto the commenting authorities – such as government departments and local authorities – to meet those time-frames.

The streamlined process, though, means that once the application is submitted there is little opportunity to reconsider elements of the project in the light of new information. Clients have had to shift their thinking to align with the new system and now only begin the authorisation process once a project is well defined, as opposed to defining the project in parallel with the authorisation process.

For simpler projects with few likely environmental impacts, this is fine. Larger, complex projects, however, tend to benefit from more revisions over a longer period of time, especially revisions aimed at making projects more sustainable – and the jury is still out on the value of the new system in these conditions.

The system is still bedding down and there are still sometimes disagreements between the commenting authorities about the process, with some departments taking the view that certain timeframes in the new regulations do not apply to them, reports SRK.

There is also a capacity issue, because the new system can require case officers or officials, especially in DMR, to make decisions about issues in which they have traditionally not really been involved, and one can have some sympathy for their position.

“As consultants, we remind our clients that the quicker pace of the official process following an EIA application comes with less flexibility, so a great deal more work needs to be done – and decisions made – in the early stages before submission of applications,” concludes the company.

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