Anyone who has been involved in the progress of the proposed Channel Tunnel Rail Link will need no convincing that environment matters. The effects of the new rail route on ancient woodlands, listed buildings and outstanding landscapes are all potential headline grabbers when it comes to picking a communications route through the heart of Kent.
CTRL and other high profile engineering projects such as the Second Severn Crossing and the Jubilee Line Extension have helped to bring about a change in the way environmental impacts are assessed and ultimately managed. With major transport projects of this kind, construction as well as operational impacts have taken on a key significance. And the upshot is that more and
more contractors are having to include a practical environmental management plan as part
of their tender submissions.
The individual components of such a plan are likely to cover a number of important yet diverse areas, from liaising with relevant regulatory authorities over issues like noise and dust to the complexities of an ancient woodland. The majority of environmental assessments continue to focus on operational impacts, but the construction phase - and with it day to day environmental management - has become an integral part of some of the UK's largest infrastructure projects.
The basis for developing a successful environmental approach to the construction phase is the environmental statement, which details the issues that tenderers need to address.
At the most general level, the environmental statement will specify measures to mitigate significant environmental impacts which need to be turned into commitments by the developers wherever possible. This helps the political decision makers and the local authorities determine residual impacts of the project but also requires the developer to accept responsibility for ensuring that practical environmental management measures are put in place.
The up-side for contractors is that by taking into account environmentally sensitive issues before work starts, they minimise the risk of delays to the construction programme. If a listed building is considered of such value that it needs to taken down brick by brick and moved elsewhere, then far better to have a detailed plan in place before work starts.
This need to take account of environmental issues from the very earliest stages of a project is placing new demands on all the main parties - the developer, the tenderers and ultimately the successful contractor. There is a growing tendency for both developers and contractors to call on environmental expertise as part of the day to day construction management team.
This assistance may begin with environmental responses at the tender stage before turning into specialist environmental management to ensure the successful contractor is able to complete the work - on time and within budget. In the case of transferring an ancient woodland, for example, advice could involve developing a plan to remove top soil to a new receptor site. While young trees will have to be planted once work is complete, the seeds in the original top soil should help to recreate the eco-system.
In preparing for huge projects such as the Channel Tunnel Rail Link, a growing number of developers and regulators now recognise that all environmental considerations must be taken into account at the tender stage. It only needs a local authority to exercise its statutory powers in relation to nuisance or pollution control for a contractor to recognise the importance of a 'pre-emptive strike' in the area of environmental management.
Simon Hewitt is a director of environmental consulancy ERM.