Environmental Planning Solutions

An Introduction To Environmental Planning Solutions

Nicolaas Kerkmeester June 02, 2021

This article focuses on the key elements of environmental planning & environmental planning solutions that you need to consider when you are thinking about your upcoming project.

You have probably heard the saying, ‘If you fail to plan, then you plan to fail.’ This is true for any personal goal you are trying to reach, whether it be planning your exercise routine so you can finish your first marathon or planning your work schedule so you have enough time to take your annual fishing long weekend.

Planning is also important when it comes to upcoming development projects, expansions or new operations. Consideration of the environmental aspects in the earliest stages of planning sets you up for success by identifying risks and opportunities as well as timeframes and budgets.

This article focuses on the key elements of environmental planning that you need to consider when you are thinking about your upcoming project.

What Is Environmental Planning?

Firstly, lets clarify the scope and meaning of the ‘environment’. Under the Queensland Environmental Protection Act 1994 for example, the definition of environment is:

(a) ecosystems and their constituent parts, including people and communities; and

(b) all natural and physical resources; and

(c) the qualities and characteristics of locations, places and areas…; and

(d) the social, economic, aesthetic and cultural conditions that affect, or are affected by, things mentioned in paragraphs (a) to (c).

Under this definition, the environment is much more than the natural environment. The use of the term ‘social, economic, aesthetic and cultural conditions’ significantly broadens the meaning of environment and the scope of environmental planning.

Environmental planning is about:

  • Protecting natural ecosystems and biodiversity
  • Effectively utilising natural and physical resources
  • Protecting and enhancing air, land and water quality
  • Promoting sustainability and waste reduction
  • Minimising impacts on aesthetic and cultural heritage values of places
  • Ensuring that actions result in a net gain to local communities

The scope of environmental planning for projects may include approvals for development proposals that have environmental implications. It may also include environmental and social impact assessments. As well as approvals required to clear native vegetation, offset impacts, take natural resources or access protected land.

What Are Environmental Planning Solutions?

There are three key components of environmental planning: 

  1. First, is understanding the current status of the natural environment. This may include baseline environmental studies, evaluating existing land uses and identifying local community values.
  2. The second component is planned outcomes. This involves defining the scope and objectives of the development taking into consideration laws, regulations and best practice.
  3. The third component is implementation. This considers how the planning will be implemented during the project.

Environmental planning solutions consider the risks and opportunities of the development early within the planning process. Being proactive is more likely to lead to project success. This may include feasibility studies to determine the viability of the proposed development from an environmental and social perspective by identifying potential issues and threats to successful project completion. Involvement at the earliest stages of a project ensures securing timely environmental approvals as well as development of implementable controls and management outcomes.

Legislative Requirements

Environmental laws and regulations relevant to your development will be depend on the type of proposed operations and location. In Australia, federal, state and local governments jointly administer environmental protection laws. 

If your development is likely to affect areas of national environmental significance, you will need Commonwealth approvals prior to commencing your development. Use the Protected Matters Search Tool to check for areas of national environmental significance.

Your proposed development may also be regulated under State and Local government environment laws through licences and permits. In addition, government agencies and industry groups develop voluntary codes of practice to guide industry’s impact on the environment. These may also require integration into your development proposal.

Location and Project Description

Environmental planning needs to consider the development location and associated values. This may include undertaking baseline studies, such as water quality or flora and fauna, of the area and surrounds. As well as consideration of historical and planned land uses, local community interests, and cultural heritage values. This provides context to the development and will identify potential constraints and opportunities for the project.

Understanding Stakeholders 

Under environmental legislation in Australia, there is a requirement for public notification of some developments. Public notification ensures that interested stakeholders are aware of the development and they have the opportunity to make submissions. There are requirements in regards to public notices, submission periods and response to submissions under different legislation. 

Early engagement with stakeholders provides the opportunity to introduce the project and commence the development of relationships. Early relationships provide the opportunity to test ideas, at phases where decisions are able to be influenced by key stakeholders, which will lead to positive outcomes for all parties. 

Why are Environmental Planning Solutions important?

Most projects clearly define their objectives, work scope, budget, and schedule but, all too often, the environment and context in which the project exists is neither fully understood nor clearly defined. This is a major source of risk when it comes to project management and execution.

Environmental planning should start at the beginning of a project, expansion or new operation. Commencing in the earliest stages of project planning, such as feasibility studies or early contractor involvement, sets up the project for success by identifying risks and opportunities. This leads to the delivery of the project on time and within budget. If the project management team do not fully understand the environmental context, the project will, in all likelihood, fail. This is because the environmental context drives project performance as much as a clearly defined work scope, budget, or schedule.

Environmental Approvals and Permits

Scoping the types of environmental approvals and permits required, and commencing communications with the key regulators, should be implemented early in the environmental planning process. This assists in securing environmental approvals within the timeline of the project. As well as providing an early understanding of likely conditions to be applied to the development.

Stakeholder Expectations

Early planning provides the opportunity to introduce the project to regulators, community and other stakeholders. This provides the opportunity to develop a good, open reputation and positive relationship with key stakeholders. This will potentially lead to less conflicts and shorter assessment times through early participation in the environmental assessment process.

Early Contractor Involvement (ECI) & Tenders

Implementation of environmental planning during the Early Contractor Involvement (ECI) or Tender phase of the project allows risks and opportunities to be identified. Involvement during ECI contracts allows consideration of designs to mitigate and minimise environmental impacts. Also for large or complex projects, this allows an integrated team time to gain an early understanding of requirements, enabling robust risk management and innovation. Environmental planning during tenders allows identification of risks likely to affect work scope, budget, and schedule. This is essential to being able to plan, implement, and control a project effectively.

Environmental Management Plans

As part of environmental planning, an Environmental Management Plan (EMP) is developed to detail management measures to be implemented during the project. The EMP identifies environmental issues and provides strategies for managing them effectively. The EMP should cover the design, construction, commissioning, and operation and maintenance phases of each project component.

This diagram hereunder helps visualise how environmental planning and environmental management fits and contributes to environmental protection as a whole.

Environmental Protection: Environmental Planning and Environmental Management

Environmental Protection: Planning & Management

Should your project need help with environmental planning solutions and management, Applied Environment & Safety have a wide experience working with a range of business sectors. View our project portfolio for more information or contact us if you would like to speak directly.