Planning System and Environmental Conditions of Consent Review – Introduction
As a supplier of environmental resource principally to the construction phase and beyond of developments, Naturally Compliant undertook research of the planning system to identify trends and requirements outlined in planning conditions. We found inconsistencies across major projects consented between Jan – June 2018; Of the projects reviewed, 59 had specific conditions of consent requiring some form of on-site Environmental/Ecological Clerk of Works and/or some form of environmental management plan/documentation.
Over the coming months we will be discussing the results of the in-depth review of those 59 projects, detailing the inconsistencies we found in the Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA), Planning Conditions and statutory authority advice; furthermore, we noted inconsistencies in guidance from both statutory authorities and government documents. These current issues are likely to have been a driving force behind incorrect or inadequate resource on construction and development sites, likely resulting in the degradation of our environment. It’s not all doom and gloom however, we believe, in fact we know, that by highlighting these inconsistencies to the top decision and policy makers, changes can and are being made. Slowly we are starting to see advice documents being issued and updated guidance, showing positive progress.
That’s the dry bit over, let’s have a look at what our research uncovered. Terminology appears to be one of the greatest inconsistencies. Of the 30 projects which mentioned a need for on-site environmental resource- an ECoW, 73% requested an Ecological CoW, only 23% requested an Environmental CoW, while a suitably qualified ecologist (SQE) was requested 4% of the time. We then looked a little deeper at the remits of the resource required; where an Ecological CoW was requested, 61% of project remits were greater than just ecological monitoring and included roles such as pollution prevention and monitoring compliance with the Construction Environmental Management Plan.
By definition most Ecological CoW roles are fulfilled by an ecologist, most ecologists spend a significant amount of time becoming proficient in ecological issues such as protected species survey and mitigation, habitat mapping, report writing and would rarely deal with pollution prevention, pollution response, land contamination, waste management, environmental permitting etc. As such there is strong argument that requiring that these roles be fulfilled by an Ecological CoW could seriously put a project and the environment at risk.
The results have shown the inconsistency within the planning sector, and in general a skills shortage of experienced Environmental CoW; therefore the ECoW role is unfortunately often fulfilled by consultancies who send any available staff. We have experienced a range of competency in our time and until there is a consistent recognised approach like the Association of Environmental and Ecological Clerk of Works qualifying membership criteria, this will persist
We believe that, an Environmental CoW is a wide-ranging role that, depending on the specifics of the project, will be fulfilled by either a skilled professional that has the required experience and qualifications, or by a multidisciplinary team. To ensure the appropriate resource is appointed, you would imagine that where an Environmental CoW is required in a planning condition, specific information on their remit is detailed. However, our analysis showed that only 43% of projects detailed an environmental remit, while in 57% of projects, no remit was specified. We believe that remits should be defined so that, no matter what, it is clear what skills, experience and qualifications are needed by the individual or team undertaking the clerk of works role.