Improving environmental, social and economic outcomes of nationally significant infrastructure projects

Many countries, including the UK, are making substantial investments in nationally significant infrastructure projects, in order to boost their economies. Typically these projects span many local authorities and different landscape types. Both the government and the industry implementers of these projects are aware of the need to mitigate the environmental and social costs of these projects. These mitigation activities are described in Environmental and Social Impact Assessments. Many companies now follow best practice guidelines as laid down by bodies such as the Business and Biodiversity Offsets Programme (BBOP). Best practice includes adopting  No Net Loss goals for  biodiversity, and aiming to leave affected people no worse off as a result of the project.

However, traditional approaches to deciding on appropriate mitigation activities were developed for individual smaller-scale projects, which can be handled through the UK planning system at the local level. Current approaches to mitigation of large-scale projects fall short of identifying the true extent of environmental damage given the large geographical areas these projects cover, and at which geographical (local and landscape) and temporal scales activities to generate environmental benefits and mitigate costs would be most effective, for biodiversity, the economy and for people. In particular there is a lack of understanding of how large-scale projects can address wider environmental challenges such as flooding, air quality and the need for climate change resilience. There is also a dearth of understanding of how to quantify the distribution of social gains and losses resulting from both environmental damage mitigation actions and efforts to achieve net positive impacts (for example the loss of local amenity vs the gain of high conservation value areas elsewhere). This issue is compounded when, (as often happens) many projects are initiated within the same region. There is therefore an urgent need to fully understand the true environmental costs and benefits of these large-scale, complex schemes, individually and cumulatively, the linked social gains and losses in the short and long terms, and how they vary geographically and between interest groups.

The studentship will develop a framework for accounting for the environmental and linked social impacts of infrastructure developments (for individual projects and for several projects within the same region), and test it for a range of industries in which Balfour Beatty is involved, potentially including transportation (road and rail), energy, flooding and nuclear decommissioning. Testing will include collection of ecological and social data on the ground for selected case studies, and gathering feedback from a variety of industry leads including Project Directors, EIA consultants and clients. This framework will be academically novel in its consideration of the interactions between the geographical and temporal scales of the environmental and linked social impact of infrastructure development, and of direct relevance to nascent government policy and emerging industry best practice in documenting and balancing gains and losses from new and upgraded infrastructure.  By testing it with Balfour Beatty, the framework will be applicable to a range of industry sectors and will be designed for practical use by industry to promote and help scale up net positive impact approaches.

Please contact EJ Milner Gulland if you are interested in this project ej.milner-gulland@zoo.ox.ac.uk

 

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