Friday, 21 August 2015

EIA AND A COMPLEX URBAN SITE





This article explores the role of environmental impact assessments (EIAs) in complex urban sites, in particular, how an ES can ensure that local planning authorities are fully aware of likely effects and can balance those against other considerations. 

Nexus Planning has recently secured approval for one of the largest regeneration projects in the London borough of Haringey, at St Ann’s Hospital. The project, for Barnet, Enfield and Haringey Mental Health NHS Trust, will deliver 470 new homes, a shop, and new healthcare facilities, including a mental health inpatient building on an 11 hectare site.

The trust identified the opportunity for the development of homes on the surplus seven hectares of land on the site, opposite Chestnuts Park in Haringey, which could fund the provision of essential health services in the area. 

The site has a number of constraints, including partial siting within a conservation area, historic buildings (including a locally listed building), rare species of trees protected by tree preservation orders (TPOs) and a site of local importance for nature conservation (SINC). 

The heritage constraints had a significant impact upon the proposals, including the need to submit a hybrid planning application as it would not have been appropriate for areas of the site located within the conservation area to be submitted in outline only.

Heritage matters were therefore a key consideration during the EIA process, with an extensive number of ‘receptors’ identified. A key receptor included the St Ann’s road wall, which is a designated heritage asset within the St Ann’s conservation area.

The wall was built as part of the original Victorian hospital campus, which was developed to treat infectious diseases and therefore designed to be inward looking. Good urban design promotes the integration of developments with existing communities but the EIA process identified a conflict with this approach and a potential significant effect upon a designated heritage asset. 

EIAs require that alternatives are considered through the ES process, which in the case of urban mixed use projects often means considering alternative design options through masterplanning. The EIA process also encourages public participation through design evolution to ensure feedback from the local community and key stakeholders is taken into account. 

A number of options were considered, ranging from retaining the wall with the exception of spaces for vehicle access, to comprehensive demolition to enable full integration with the existing community. The EIA process clearly directed preservation of the wall, however, public consultation and stakeholder engagement revealed a preference for a midway option, consisting of retaining the wall in key areas and a significant reduction in height in all other areas. 

The ES identified a moderate adverse impact on the wall. However, the LPA had to weigh up further considerations beyond the ES conclusions, such as the public benefits that would arise as a result of the loss of the wall, through improved accessibility, integration with the existing community and potential regeneration benefits. The LPA concluded that the other material considerations outweighed the identified harm. 

The EIA process, through an ES, ensures that LPAs are fully aware of likely significant effects so that they can be adequately and appropriately taken into account in the decision making process. This structured and robust process is particularly important in the instance of complex urban sites, which inherently require the balancing of a diverse range of considerations.

Source: Oliver Bell, Nexus Planning.



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