Screening tool demystifies environmental authorisation process

Screening tool demystifies environmental authorisation process

The Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) is responsible for protecting, conserving and improving the South African environment and natural resources.
As part of their mandate DEA is required to be proactive and foster innovative thinking and solutions for environmental management premised on a people-centric approach that recognises the centrality of Batho Pele principles. In fulfilling its commitment, DEA launched a geographically based web-enabled National Environmental Screening Tool that aims to provide users the ability to pre-screen their proposed site for environmental impacts before applying for an environmental authorisation.

30 September 2018

Working with private and public organisations, the DEA has collated over 100 environmental data sets, such as the South African Protected Areas Database, the Agricultural Land Capability, and Terrestrial biodivesity. These data sets have been overlaid with national land parcel and street map data, making it possible for users to easily identify a proposed site and establish of the environmental sensitivity for the site

The screening tool was developed using Esri geospatial technology and its functionality was designed to comply with the Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations of 2014 which fall under the National Environmental Management Act of 1998. The DEA has been using Esri software products for over 25 years and Esri South Africa has been extensively involved in providing software solutions, professional services and support to ensure the optimal use of Esri products within the department.

Developers were tasked to ensure that the screening tool  is  user-friendly and no specific software or specialised GIS skills are required for its operation. The GIS-based application is centrally managed to support multiple applicants and to facilitate easier maintenance.

The tool empowers users by directing them to the pertinent  and up to date information  applicable to their site, and it forms a common foundation in the authorisation process.  Users are easily able to identify potential sensitivities and project-specific information, search land parcels, group data by layers or by theme, and generate reports summarising the screening results.

The geographically based web-enabled application identifies related exclusions and specific requirements including specialist studies applicable to the proposed site, based on the national sector classification and the environmental sensitivity of the site. Users are able to access the relevant documents through the screening tool where hyperlinks are available when applicable.

The final step in the screening process allows users to generate a pre-screening report which is a legal requirement  referred to in Regulation 16(1)(v) of the Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations, 2014 when applying for environmental authorisation.  The report provides details on all sensitivities, available databases, and the GIS layers of the site in question to download. It contains maps and tables of the potential environmental sensitivities, as well as a list of specialist studies and the specialists’ terms of reference.

Among the benefits arising from the development of the National Environmental Screening Tool are that it combines information on sensitive environments to be source in one place, provides a common methodology for screening by competent authorities, and promotes transparency in the environmental authorisation process.

Aside from the cost-savings involved in leveraging existing Esri technology within the DEA for the screening tool, developers and competent authorities now have the added convenience of being able to access the application on any device, anywhere, at any time. The number of speculative enquiries sent to competent authorities has also been reduced providing them with more time to focus on core work activities.

The DEA anticipates that the National Environmental Screening Tool will be used at pre-application meetings to enable practitioners, proponents and authorities to gain a better understanding of the potential environmental sensitivities and legal triggers, and as a base for discussions on specialist studies.