1. The HS2 Railway Network
On November 2013, the Government passed a hybrid bill to Parliament supporting the launch of Phase One of the High Speed Two (HS2) project (DfT 2013). Consultation ended in February 2014 and the Parliament is in the process of appointing an independent assessor to provide an outline of all issues surrounding the project. The HS2 project is a railway network that is part of the Coalition Agreement and the Department for Transport’s (DfT) business plan from 2010 until 2015. HS2 has two phases, which will be launched separately and thus, will be subjected to two consultations. After consultation of Phase One that ended in February, consultation and development for Phase Two will begin upon completion of Phase One between 2017 and 2026. Phase One of the network will run from London to the West Midlands while Phase Two will include the development of the Y network that connects West Midlands to the East Midlands, Leeds, and Manchester. The project aims to curb greenhouse gas emissions from the transport industry, improve travel experience by increasing seating capacity to meet demand and making travel convenient through connectivity, and boost the economy, particularly due to intended improvements in trade and consumption. The proposed scheme will require several developments, such as an expansion of the Euston station and establishment of new stations in Old Oak Common in West London, Birmingham Interchange and Curzon Street in Central Birmingham; the establishment of a connection between HS1 and site of HS2, to WCML, and later on to Heathrow Airport; and a depot in Birmingham. Part of HS2’s development is the construction of bridges, viaducts, and tunnels along planned routes, and the inclusion of tunnel portals, cuttings, and embankments.
During the consultation, Phase One of HS2 underwent assessment following the guidelines set by the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). The purpose of which was to assess the environmental impact of the project. The assessment focused on assessing the HS2’s impact on agriculture, air quality, the community and cultural heritage, ecology, electromagnetic compatibility, land quality and landscape, socio-economic conditions, noise, traffic and travel, waste production, water resources, and flooding. The assessment was also comprehensive in that it covered all issues for each area or location that will be affected by the project. Major issues include the demolition of hundreds of residential properties, park estates or public spaces, and some heritage assets. Consequently, the HS2 will lead to the unemployment of thousands along communities affected by construction due to demolition of business spaces. The railway structure will also affect landscape views with the construction of a modern edifice while the construction will disrupt activity in residential areas due to noise. Construction will also disrupt the community’s access to amenities. Moreover, construction will lead to disruptions in travel, increased traffic, and travel time due to closure of some roads but these are expected to change on the completion of the HS2.
Although the foregoing issues materialized during assessment, the report noted that overall, the HS2 will leave no significant residual effects on the environment during both the construction and operation of HS2 when it comes to the ecology, land quality, water resources, flood risk, cultural heritage and socio-economic conditions. We can attribute this to approaches to mitigation included in the Phase One plan, which refers to avoidance or reduction of effects, repair of resources or structures following effects, and access to compensation for those who will be affected by the construction.
2. Appraisal of the European Review Method
The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) follows three stages – screening, scoping, and the EIS review (European Commission 2001). By following these stages during assessment, developers and consultants alike can assess project impact thoroughly and consequently create a comprehensive report to produce a quality Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). This European review method applies as a standard for European Union (EU) countries, which includes the United Kingdom (UK) where the launching of the HS2 project is underway. In this part of the discussion, the critical analysis focuses on the EIA as a means of reviewing public and private projects and developing quality statements. The following discussion will focus on EIA in general, and specifically its role in the HS2 project. The discussion also highlights the strengths and weaknesses of the review method, its value or importance especially to the public, and the issues that the review method would address when it comes to planning and decision-making.
Essentially, the development of quality statements is important because it provides a comprehensive analysis of the effects or impact of public or private projects (Wathern 2013). Without thorough assessment and analysis of the impact and implications of a project, which is a necessity in environmental statements, issues that require attention would not be identified. Consequently, without the proper and full identification of issues that would arise from public and private projects, concerned organisations or institutions, including the Government that manages public developments, would not be able to develop mitigation techniques and strategies to prevent, avoid, or respond to detrimental outcomes that would affect the quality of life and the environment in local communities (Glasson, Therivel & Chadwick 2013; Kneese & Bower 2013; Therivel 2012). Hence, quality statements guide decision-making for key stakeholders. Similarly, the quality of these decisions would affect the outcomes of the project. On the contrary, the absence of quality statements following a thorough review of environmental effects or impact will lead to a variety of problems and issues that would affect the quality of life of people in communities and the environment.
Overall, quality environmental statements provide a comprehensive and informative review of a public or private project. The environmental statement details environmental impact under different categories such as land and water resources, air quality, sound and noise, community, and cultural heritage among others. Developers, consultants, and other stakeholders including the public can use the environmental statement as a resource material to identify key environmental issues or problems that a certain project will present, determine mitigation strategies or techniques in place, and evaluate whether a specific project will be beneficial to the community and non-detrimental to the environment (Glasson, Therivel & Chadwick 2013).
A quality statement will also play an important role in helping stakeholders integrate long-term solutions and outcomes to proposed schemes or projects to prevent environmental degradation and to reduce the type of activities that would lead to it (Maughan 2013). Therefore, the environmental statement is a key component of problem-solving towards sustainability when it comes to project development. To discuss an example that shows this, one of the primary issues that stakeholders aim to address nowadays is carbon or greenhouse gas emissions. This is a serious issue because the emission of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere contributes to global warming, and consequently to weather disturbances and environmental degradation. Since this issue must be solved systematically, global warming in its entirety as an issue, also permeates planning and decision-making in project development and implementation among public and private organisations or institutions. Consequently, developers will find a way to address this issue in the project so if they are involved in a project housing and structural development, they would look into ways and materials to reduce energy consumption. The environmental statement will show if developers addressed specific issues in the plan. Hence, the statement shows the viability of a project in reducing detrimental environmental impact.
Quality is important in the development of EISs because as previously noted, it influences further planning and decision-making on the part of developers. At this point, it is important to discuss what a quality statement means. When we say “quality statement”, we refer to an environmental that is accurate and comprehensive (Bizer, Lechner & Fuhr 2010; Lee & George 2013). A statement is inaccurate if aspects of it are falsified, which occurs sometimes due to biases and pressure or influence from developers that would benefit from the ‘greenlighting’ of projects. Hypothetically speaking, since the HS2 is a public project, pressure on consultants that assessed the project could come from Government. Inaccurate and incomprehensive reports could also be the result of poor fieldwork wherein consultants do not set a full list of metrics, standards, or elements that should be assessed, and therefore, miss the assessment of conditions that may reveal weaknesses in the project plan (Schmidt, Glasson & Emmelin 2008). When this happens, the environmental statement poses a threat to safety and sustainability. If, for instance, pressure from developers lead consultants to conceal problems related to the project or poor fieldwork lead to failures among consultants to identify weaknesses or issues in the project plan, and consequently, the project pushes through, the foregoing problems will materialize and affect communities and the environment. If a project, for instance, does not follow guidelines in drainage systems and the assessment fails to show this weakness in the project, floods will ensue following the completion of the project. If a developer launches a project in building construction and the environmental statement fails to assess and determine that intended materials for construction are sub-standard, then people that will occupy spaces in these structures will be at risk after the completion of the project due to possibility of wreckage on account of the unstable structure. In the same way, if consultants fail to complete a comprehensive and accurate statement that points out the impact of a non-sustainable transportation project on air quality, greenhouse gas emission will increase following the completion of the project and lower air quality. Based on these examples, the potential and real impact of inadequate environmental statements could be disastrous for the community because projects could harm people and the environment. EISs are instruments that help identify problems and issues that will consequently lead to planning and decision-making, specifically to mitigate undesirable outcomes (Lee & George 2013; Schmidt, Jao & Albrecht 2006).
The EIA must include a detailed description of the project, review of mitigation techniques and strategies to avoid, reduce, or respond to adverse effects of the project, enumeration of data used to assess and identify these effects, a discussion of alternatives to deal with these effects, and a non-technical summary of the environmental statement. To conduct EIA, consultants conducting screening, which will help them determine if the project requires EIA. If consultants decide that the project must be subjected to EIA, they proceed to the next stage – scoping. During scoping, consultants work with environmental authorities to identify and discuss matters that will be included in the assessment and report. Following this stage, consultants conduct EIA and use information obtained during assessment to write the EIS. Consultants then send the EIS to a competent authority for review, further consultation, and consent decision-making, until the final verdict is announced. One of the advantages of the EIA is that encourages prevention as a key component in planning and decision-making. In this way, the EIA also encourages long-term planning and consideration on the part of the developers to look into ways to solve existing environmental problems and promote sustainability (Bizer, Lechner, & Fuhr 2010; Lee & George 2013). Moreover, the EIA is advantageous because it promotes comprehensive reporting wherein consultants assess the project based on different elements and metrics. The EIA also plays an important role in decision-making and further planning. Perhaps the only disadvantage or weakness in the EIA is its lack of dictates in ensuring that there would be no conflict of interest in the involvement of consultants and that their assessment would be unaffected by pressures or influences from developers. Hence, there must be a body to assess the assessment process – ‘watch the watchdogs’ so to speak – to ensure that consultants would accomplish reports accurately, comprehensively, and without biases.
Based on the process of EIA and the advantages and contributions of quality environmental statements following assessment, the imposition of a quality review method such as the EIA significantly contributes to the overall quality of environmental decisions in project planning and development. Some would say implementing review methods such as the EIA presents bureaucratic hurdles, increases spending, and interferes with development. However, these claims are baseless because assessment plays an important role in the prevention of detrimental outcomes such as disasters that could claim lives and destroy the environment. EIA helps in ensuring that projects will not engender outcomes that would disrupt or lower the quality of life in communities.
Bizer, K, Lechner, S, & Fuhr, M 2010, The European impact assessment and the environment, New York, NY, Springer.
Depart of Transport 2013, HS2 Phase One environmental statement, Vol. 2 Community Forum Area Reports and Map Books, 6 Mar 2014, < https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/hs2-phase-one-environmental-statement-volume-2-community-forum-area-reports-and-map-books/hs2-phase-one-environmental-statement-volume-2-community-forum-area-reports-and-map-books>
European Commission 2001, Guidance on EIA, European Commission, Luxembourg, 6 Mar 2014, < http://ec.europa.eu/environment/eia/eia-guidelines/g-review-full-text.pdf>
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