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Sweco UK

Sweco helps IEMA put health at the heart of Environmental Impact Assessments


Rebecca McClenaghan, Principal Environmentalist at Sweco UK, is part of a difference-making Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment (IEMA) Health Working Group which has made strides to put human wellbeing into the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process through new guidance documents. We took time out with Rebecca to learn more about the need for the new guidance, and her role in helping the IEMA define and publish it.

Thanks for taking a few moments to tell us more on this, Rebecca. Firstly, can you tell us a little about the working group you were invited onto?

IEMA’s Health Working Group was set up following Article 3 of the EIA Directive (2014/52/EU)[1], which included a new requirement to consider health as part of EIAs. The main purpose of the group is to identify the best way to integrate health considerations into EIAs.

The group is comprised of a mixture of EIA professionals (practitioners and academics) working for organisations registered to the EIA Quality Mark (which Sweco are) and key stakeholders from Public Health organisations from England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

And what is this particular guidance about – from a Sweco point of view, what challenges is it designed to help our clients overcome?

In November 2022, IEMA published two new guidance documents on the consideration of health as a topic in EIA, focusing on two key areas, namely, ‘scoping’ and ‘determining significance’:

  1. “Effective Scoping of Human Health in Environmental Impact Assessment”
  2. “Determining Significance For Human Health In Environmental Impact Assessment”

Whilst there is a lot of guidance out there on health impact assessments (HIA), the majority of it is for standalone HIAs. Guidance for assessing health as part of an EIA was lacking which means we’re now much more equipped to communicate what a client needs to consider, and do, when embarking upon environmental impact analysis.


Sustainability Insights

Visit the IEMA website for further details and to download the guidance Rebecca has contributed to

What was your role specifically on the working group?

My role was to make sure the guidance was useful from an EIA practitioner’s point of view. As well as providing text, we all reviewed the many iterations that were circulated. From start to finish it took about one year which shows not only the need, but also the huge importance of adding ‘health’ into the equation.

Could you give us a quick summary of the aspects of the guidance you focused on?

My particular focus was looking at the scoping of human health in EIAs. A hugely important step so that the assessment can then be proportionate, focusing on the relevant issues for that project. The assessment should focus on likely and potentially significant population health effects of the project. Where no potential for likely significant effect is predicted then human health should be scoped out of the EIA.

To scope, you firstly identify the relevant health ‘determinants[2]’. For example, the below would be explored and then agreed with the public health stakeholders.:

  • Physical activity
  • Diet and nutrition
  • Housing
  • Open space, leisure and nature[2]
  • Transport modes and access
  • Safety
  • Air quality
  • Noise
  • Radiation


And what will the benefit of the guidance – and the resulting change in EIA mindset – be?

This is where the health assessment can really make a difference. With a growing body of evidence linking peoples’ surrounding environment with their health and well-being, we are in a great position to design our projects to create better societies.

Designing in areas of not just green open space, but with wildflower meadow and tree planting that attracts bees, birds, welcoming, safe seating areas, accessible to all –  we can turn a place around from being a transient area people pass through to a place they stop. They then start to breath more slowly (switching their nervous system into parasympathetic mode) and reduce their stress hormone levels, contributing positively to their health and wellbeing.

Due to the increasing evidence showing the direct links between being in nature and a range of health benefits inspired the RSPB to create Nature Prescriptions, a new way to support the health of people and nature. More info on this: https://www.rspb.org.uk/natureprescriptions.

[1] The Directive was transposed into: The Town and Country Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) (Scotland) Regulations 2017; The Town and Country Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations 2017; The Town and Country Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) (Wales) Regulations 2017; The Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2017
[2] Biological, behavioural, socio-economic, cultural or environmental factors which contribute to the health status of individuals or populations