In July 2021 the New South Wales government released a revised Social Impact Assessment Guideline for State Significant Projects (SIA Guideline). The new SIA Guideline has broadened its focus and demands increased rigour in the delivery of a social impact assessment (SIA). There are two significant changes to the SIA Guideline that all businesses need to be aware of if they are seeking planning approval.
Firstly, the SIA Guideline applies to all state significant projects as defined under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979:
- State Significant Infrastructure;
- State Significant Development; and
- Critical State Significant Infrastructure.
If you are seeking approval for a project, regardless of your industry, you will need to consider the consequences of your project on the local and regional community from early stages of project development and definition (or Scoping phase).
Secondly, the SIA Guideline stipulates that a ‘suitably qualified person’ must author the social impact assessment. The author of SIA documents must have suitable qualifications in relevant social science disciplines and/or proven experience over multiple years. When seeking a SIA practitioner Appendix B of the SIA Guideline provides further guidance including the professional membership organisations to look for.
Why Social Impact Assessment
Our society has become increasingly connected and this resulted in an increased ability of social activists and community to influence decision-makers and/or holding up the delivery of projects that can cost companies time and money. In 2014, a study conducted by The University of Queensland estimated that community conflict can incur costs of roughly US$20 million per week for mining projects valued between US$3 billion and US$5 billion. The development application for the Rocky Hill Mine was refused in part because it was deemed “the Project will have significant and unacceptable planning, visual and social impacts, which cannot be satisfactorily mitigated”. The judge cited the SIA Guideline heavily in his decision highlighting the need for rigorous SIA of projects. Since then, we have seen other projects rejected by consent authorities on matters related to their social impact and/or the communities’ objections to the proposed project.
Maximise the benefits of the new SIA Guideline for your Project
A well-executed SIA can foster strong relationships and partnerships with community; strengthen a company’s licence to operate; and contribute to obtaining planning approval. More specifically the SIA process can assist you to:
- identify and manage the social risks associated with your project;
- identify and enhance social benefits;
- improve planning and design;
- reduce conflict and build trust;
- build relationships with your local and regional community;
- establish stronger mutually beneficial partnerships and create shared value outcomes; and
- build and manage company reputation.
Elevating social assessments to reduce impacts, maximise benefits and deliver optimal outcomes
The development of the new SIA Guideline has been informed by the long history and success of social impact management plans internationally and in Queensland. Engaging a suitably qualified person will improve an understanding of your social impacts and allow you to adopt mitigation measures that work for your project and the community. A Social Scientist will know what to measure and how to measure social impacts to assist with ongoing compliance.
EMM has the expertise to conduct an SIA that meets the regulatory requirements set out in the SIA Guideline and the skills to leverage those relationships to minimise negative social Impacts and maximise the benefits to the community. We adopt social science methods along with excellent community and stakeholder engagement activities to ensure our assessment of the social risks is rigorous and informed.
EMM has a team of suitably qualified persons, social scientists and social planners, with contemporary knowledge and experience delivering SIAs across jurisdictions and industries for Projects of all sizes including large, high profile and complex.
Our National Technical Lead was involved in the early implementation of Queensland’s Strong and Sustainable Resource Communities Act 2017 and drafting its statutory instrument the Social Impact Assessment Guideline 2018.
by Andrea Kanaris, SIA National Technical Leader
02 9493 9500