Director, Environmental Research Institute

apan's environmental impact assessment (EIA) system has been criticized by the public and specialists alike as being nothing more than a seal of approval on development projects. While it is true that EIA is aimed at restraining developers for the purpose of environmental protection, there are few examples of project designs or plans being altered as a result of the findings of an EIA. It is for this reason that citizens' groups and environmental organizations characterize Japan's EIA system as powerless and, at times, an impediment to the protection of the environment. In many ways the EIA system merely reflects the inflexibility of government, its unwillingness to modify its original position no matter what, and thus the resignation of many citizens to the status quo is hardly surprising.

In this light it is important to know that, twenty-eight years after NEPA (the American National Environmental Protection Act) came into effect, an environmental impact assessment law was finally enacted in June of this year. However, the purpose of this paper is not to bemoan the tardiness of this legislation. Rather, it examines the degree to which the assessment ordinances and guidelines which have formed the core of Japan's EIA system up until now have been used, in practice, to judge the necessity, propriety and fairness of administrative plans and development projects.

The case examined is that of Yebisu Garden Place (YGP), a massive urban renewal project built in Tokyo's Shibuya ward, just inside the Yamanote train line, on the site of a former Sapporo beer factory. YGP is the last and biggest such project of this century in Japan. What is interesting about this project is that it was subject to an alternative EIA commissioned by local residents, a first in Japan. Not only does this case illustrate the problems inherent in the present EIA system; it also brings into relief the way in which EIA can be an effective urban planning tool.

Yebisu Garaden Place plan map

The YGP site, formerly the Sapporo Beer Ebisu Factory site, is located just inside the Yamanote train line (see diagram 1). Despite this central location, the site is surrounded by much greenery and adjacent to the Institute for Nature Study National Science Museum, the Tokyo Metropolitan Tei-en Art Museum and quiet residential neighbourhoods. The plan for the project was as follows: under a special legal relaxation of the floor space index, a 167 meter tall office building, 2 apartment towers in excess of 100 meters in height, a 90 meter high hotel and a city planning road 15 meters in width were to be built on approximately 10 hectares of the former factory site.

Following is an account of the events which led a citizens' group to request that I do an alternative environmental impact assessment (EIA) of the project. Outside of dealing with the competent government bureaus, the first time that Sapporo Beer Corporation publicly discussed the YGP project was at an August 1987 explanatory meeting for the Date town assembly. It was at this meeting that Akira Ueda, a local resident and soon to become the center of the alternative EIA movement, first heard of the project. Sapporo Beer Co. subsequently conducted similar meetings at nine other town assemblies, though it became apparent that the purpose of the meetings was to begin building ties with assembly chairment and local elites.

Akira Ueda was able to get a copy of the project's environmental impact statement from the Ebisu Development Corporation, a company established by the Sapporo Beer Co. in order to oversee the YGP project. In May 1989, as stipulated in the Tokyo Metropolitan Government environmental assessment regulations, the EIA of the YGP was made public. Ueda and other concerned citizens visited the Shibuya ward office in order to read it. They also attended the explanatory meetings put on by the Sapporo Beer Co. on 16 and 17 May and, simultaneously, carried on direct negotiations with the developer. In June, Ueda and other citizens joined together to form the Ebisu Third Chome Environmental Measures Council (hereafter, referred to as 'council). Council members visited sites similar to the YGP, submitted petitions to the director of Shibuya ward and the chairman of the Shibuya ward assembly, and handed in an opinion report on the EIA. They also visited a wind tunnel testing facility and regional heating and cooling facilities.

On 15 July 1989 a public hearing was held, as stipulated in the city's assessment regulations. Council members attended and gave presentations. They also began holding informal meetings and conferences with concerned citizens. In the beginning of October the council sent a letter by certified mail regarding its concerns about the YGP project to the developer and the Governor of Tokyo.

In February 1990 the council held an informal meeting about the traffic implications of the project and subsequently submitted a list of 31 concrete recommendations to the developer. In March, the council sent the developer a request for improvements in its plans regarding nitrogen oxide emissions mitigation. The response of the developer was that nitrogen oxide emissions slightly in excess of environmental standards would not pose a threat to human health. Doubting the sincerety of the developer's efforts to abide by environmental standards, the council submitted an open letter with questions concerning emissions.

Faced with mounting concern regarding the YGP project, the developer released a report setting out its own view on the project. In response, the council wrote an opinion report and submitted 5 copies to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Bureau of Environmental Protection. In May of the same year, having received no response to its questions regarding various technical matters in the EIA, the council approached Kagoshima Construction (Tokyo branch), the company that had carried out the EIA, and demanded a direct response to its questions. In June the developer held an explanatory meeting regarding the actual construction of the project. In the same month, experts from Kagoshima Construction and the Wind Engineering Research Institute held discussions with the council regarding air pollution, wind damage, and the effects of wind patterns.

It became clear that certain problems existed in the premises of the wind tunnel experiments.
On June 20, ignoring the possible impact of the project on local residents, the developer concluded a construction agreement with the eight town councils neighboring the site. In response, the council sent another open letter with questions about the project to the developer. In July, following a problem with beer odors, the council met with experts on odor control.

In short, as detailed above, from 1987 on, through direct negotiations with the developer, consultations with experts, being involved in the various steps of the assessment procedure and taking a number of other actions, the council made its concerns about the possible effects of the YGP project known.

At the outset, the council felt that if it followed the assessment procedures and made its concerns known to the developer and the authorities, these concerns would be taken into account. According to the council's various submissions, it saw the major problems being as follows:

1. the impact, in terms of air quality and noise levels, of cars going in and out of parking facilities belonging to the YGP project or related establishments.

2. the impact, in terms of air quality and noise, of the city planning road to accompany the YGP project.

3. the air pollution resulting from emissions from the low smoke stacks of the regional heating and cooling facilities.

4. the impact on the micro-climate and possibility of wind damage resulting from a concentration of skyscrapers in Tokyo's geographically highest area.

From the EIA it was clear that the investigations, predictions and assessments surrounding the above concerns were inadequate. Furthermore, an environmental protection group in the area expressed concern that a 5-story deep basement in one of the YGP buildings would have a negative impact on the ground water and aquifer supplying the Institute for Nature Study adjacent to the redevelopment site.

However, in the final environmental impact statement submitted by the developer to the city government in July 1990, the areas of concern pointed out by the council were almost completely ignored in the project design, construction plan and environmental protection measures. Without requiring any changes, the city government gave the green light to the project.

Soon after this decision was made, Akira Ueda made the following observation in an interview with the Mainichi Shimbun, a leading Japanese newspaper: in this EIA, it was as if "the developer wrote the test questions, answered them and then did the grading. It's no wonder that he passed the test".

In August 1990, by means of an introduction from the Shibuya ward office, the council came to the Environmental Research Institute Inc. (ERI), of which I am the director. Since being established as a research institute, ERI has carried out investigative research for local and national government bodies as well as acted as an advocate planner for citizens groups by preparing alternative assessments and technical position papers.

ERI appreciated the hard work and the explanations of Ueda and other members of the council, but did not feel that it could do an appropriate alternative assessment given the limited time and funds available, particularly considering the huge amount of time and money the developer had spent on its own EIA. The council, however, stated that it would pay for the assessment and begged ERI to do the job.

Finally ERI agreed, on several conditions, to carry out an alternative assessment for the council and the local residents which it represented. The assessment was done, starting almost immediately, in August and September of the same year.

The conditions attached to the alternative assessment were as follows. ERI would minutely examine the developer's EIA and exclude from its own assessment those areas it deemed largely unproblematic. Concretely, this meant that the focus would be on the YGP project's impact on local residents, as the developer's EIA was inadequate in this area. Given the short time and limited funds available for the alternative EIA, the focus would be on traffic, air quality, and noise. Finally, according to the contract drawn up between ERI and the council, a fixed sum (only a fraction of the cost of the developer's EIA) would be payed to ERI by the council at the time of the alternative EIA's completion. As well, materials that the council had collected regarding the YGP project would be handed over to ERI to aid it in its assessment.

When ERI's researchers returned from their summer vacations, work commenced on the alternative EIA. During the months of August and September, they conducted studies on present traffic volume (cross-sectional traffic volume, volume by vehicle type, simple origin destination studies), air pollution (nitrogen oxides), and noise (ambient noise, traffic noise), and also projected future traffic, air quality and noise impact from construction, new roads and a higher concentration of regional heating and cooling facilities. When the results of these studies were analyzed and compared with the EIA prepared by the developer, it became clear that a number of problems existed with the latter's premises, predictions and general content. Based on these results, ERI presented plan and design changes as well as additional environmental protection measures. For much of this work ERI utilized environmental impact simulation programs that had been developed in-house for previous national and local government projects. The proposals put forward in the alternative assessment were as follows:

1. reduce the floor space index in order to lessen the traffic volume impact of the project

2. put the new city planning road underground in order to reduce its impact on the surrounding residential area

3. strengthen the mitigation measures for the regional heating and cooling and independent power generation facilities

4. introduce additional measures to mitigate noise pollution from large scale air conditioning systems

5. in the construction phase, use indirect injection (IDI) diesel or other such low pollution vehicles

6. reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases

7. reduce the impact of this concentration of skyscrapers on the microclimate (wind direction, speed) and undertake measures to prevent wind damage

At the end of September, the council held a meeting for local residents on the above alternative assessment and worked on building a consensus regarding how to proceed.

The council delivered and tried to explained the alternative environmental assessment's results to various government bodies, including the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Bureau of Environmental Protection. The latter body, however, refused to accept the alternative assessment or discuss it, arguing that the assessment process had already been concluded. The council then petitioned the Tokyo governor to refrain from licensing the project and to reopen the environmental assessment process.

On 17 October 1990, the council sent the alternative assessment and an open letter to the Housing and City Consolidation Public Corporation (an entity established by the developer). On the twenty-second of the same month, the council brought a copy of the alternative assessment to the Tokyo Metropolitan Assessment Council chairman (former Environment Agency administrative vice-minister, Funago). However, their offer to explain the assessment was rejected. On 30 October, the council visited the Environment Agency's Environmental Impact Assessment Division head (Mr. Hashimoto), gave him a copy of the alternative assessment and explained its contents. On 19 December the council had an interview with and explained the alternative assessment to Mr. Ikeda, the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly's chairman of the City Planning and Environmental Protection Committee.

As negotiations with the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Bureau of Environmental Protection seemed to be making no progress, the council brought its dispute to the Tokyo Metropolitan Pollution Investigation Committee on 8 January 1991. On 14 January, together with their lawyer, Mr. Miyake, the council went to the Metropolitan government to apply for arbitration. On the thirtieth of that month, the council was notified that its application had been accepted.

On 21 February, the council visited Mr. Satou, chief of the Construction Guidance Section in the Tokyo Metropolitan Bureau of City Planning and requested that he advise the developer from a construction, rather than an environmental assessment, perspective on design and planning changes. During this visit, the council carefully explained the technical content of the alternative assessment. In particular, it emphasized the direct impact that emissions from the regional heating and cooling systems would have on inhabitants of the new highrise apartment buildings.

In the beginning of March, the council and a local resident, Mr. Kuroda, met with the Construction Guidance Section chief again, this time pointing out the implications of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government's decision to allow a significant relaxation of the floor space index regulations for the YGP project. On 6 March the Pollution Investigation Committee met, but no agreement was reached between the council and the developer.

On 12 March, a question regarding the relaxation of the floor space index was brought up in a House of Representatives Budget Committee meeting. On 28 March, in the developer's shareholders' meeting, discussion took place regarding the council. A second meeting of the Pollution Investigation Committee was held on 19 April, but no significant progress was made.

On 17 May, the council met with the heads of the Bureau of City Planning's Dispute Arbitration Office and the Construction Guidance Section and formally requested arbitration. On 10 June, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, through the Pollution Investigation Committee, conducted the first dispute resolution session. The second session was held on 18 June and the third on 28 June. On 29 July the fourth session was held. The developer made no concessions in any of these sessions.

However, by the second half of 1991, as a result of steady negotiations with the Pollution Investigation Committee, the Dispute Arbitration Office, the Construction Investigation Committee and even at the shareholders' meeting, the council was finally able to win some design and planning concessions from the developer. Of particular importance were the concessions won regarding the height of the smokestacks for the regional heating and cooling facilities. An agreement was first reached to raise the height from 22 to 45 meters. However, a final decision was made to remove one elevator from the planned office building and convert the remaining 166 meter high shaft into a smoke stack. Thus, emissions could disperse from the roof of the 167 meter high building (see diagram 2). The headline of a 7 August 1991 Asahi Shimbun (evening edition) article summed up the situation as follows:"Citizens' Assessment Changes Plans for Too Low Smokestack in the Shibuya Meguro Sapporo Beer Factory Redevelopment Site". The article went on to praise the alternative assessment for making possible important design changes that would not have occurred under Tokyo Metropolitan Government regulations.


On 17 May 1993, after a series of Pollution Investigation Committee meetings and the completion of the dispute arbitration process, the council and the developer signed an environmental survey agreement. According to the agreement, in addition to making various plan and design changes, the developer agreed to allow a third party to investigate the environmental impacts of its construction activities at the YGP redevelopment site. Additionally, should this third party uncover any noticeable impacts, the developer would be responsible, financially and otherwise, to take mitigation measures. The council appointed ERI as the third party and the developer set up an environmental survey fund to pay the necessary expenses.

Prior to drawing up the environmental survey agreement, the council obtained state of the art digital noise and vibration meters. Starting in December 1991 it measured noise and vibration from the YGP construction site; results were sent by facsimile to ERI, the Shibuya Ward Office, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and other relevant government bodies. As well, from February 1992 the council began to measure nitrogen oxides using a simple diffusion sampler. By measuring, recording and disseminating the data obtained, the council was able to hold the developer environmentally responsible during construction as well as prepare for its own follow-up monitoring.

In August 1993 ERI, the third party responsible for the follow-up environmental survey, set up an automated environmental monitoring station on the roof of a building located close to the YGP site and owned by a council member, Mr. Shibatsuji. This station began taking regular measurements of air pollution (NO, NO2 etc.)and climate conditions (wind direction and speed, temperature etc.). From September 1993, the monitoring station's hourly measurements were automatically telemetered to ERI. From December, the research institute made all data available on E-NET, its internet mailing list. In this way, interested local residents, government officials and persons involved in project construction could access data regarding the project's environmental impact in 'real time'.

From June 1994, the monitoring station also began to monitor CO2 (carbon dioxide), a key greenhouse gas. In December of the same year, the station also began to measure suspended particulate matter (SPM) and possibly became the world's first NGO operated regular environmental monitoring station.

In addition to operating an environmental monitoring station to assess the environmental impact of the massive urban redevelopment project discussed above, ERI and local residents conducted a three year comprehensive environmental survey. The results of the survey were compiled into the "Yebisu Garden Place Follow-up Report" and distributed at a conference for local residents, the developers and relevant government bodies.

Diagram 4 illustrates the location of the measuring stations used in the comprehensive environmental survey and lists the various substances monitored. The survey not only compared the developer's EIA and the alternative EIA in terms of predicted traffic volume and environmental impacts of construction and facility use, it also compared and analyzed "before and after" air pollution levels, noise, vibration, wind direction and wind speed in the project area. All of these results were compiled into the final report.

In April 1995, a Follow-up Environmental Survey conference was held at the Yebisu Social Education Center to discuss the results of the survey. About 30 local residents, developers, researchers and government officials gathered and discussed the impacts of the YGP project based on the results of the comprehensive environmental survey. Diagram 5 shows traffic volume measurements taken in the area surrounding the YGP project before the project began and after its completion.

Both local residents and the developers for the first time were able to see, through continuous environmental monitoring before, during and after the construction phase, the environmental impact of a major development project. As well, it became possible to judge the degree of precision in forecasting and assessment in other ongoing EIAs. In short, the survey made it possible to know to what degree other EIA predictions could be trusted.

What became clear in the YGP case was that, even if well-informed, intelligent citizens actively participate in the environmental assessment procedures required under Tokyo Metropolitan Government regulations, it is exceedingly unlikely that their recommendations will lead to any design or plan changes.

In my 25 years of carrying out and researching environmental assessment in Japan, I have not seen major plan and design changes occur under any existing assessment guidelines or regulations in this country. The alternative assessment discussed in these pages seems to be the only example to the contrary. And, it is clear that the significant changes made in the YGP designs occured only because of the alternative assessment and the way in which it was used by Mr. Ueda and the council in direct negotiations with the Pollution Investigation Committee, the Dispute Arbitration Office and the developers, all of which occured outside the formal assessment procedure. The environmental survey agreement signed by the developer and the council which made possible follow-up environmental monitoring and dissemination of the results to the public, also not a standard feature in mainstream EIA procedures, serves further to highlight the serious weaknesses inherent in mainstream assessment procedures.

About 20 years ago, while working at the Environment Agency, I was involved in a 3 year project to study the theory and methodology of policy and program assessment and to write policy proposals on the subject. This type of assessment, also known as strategic environmental assessment (SEA), remains an alternative to project assessment and is set to be the next area of debate now that there is a national level environmental assessment law. Effective SEA requires assessment at the earliest stage of planning, a comprehensive approach, the analysis of alternative plans, and the introduction of freedom of information legislation (which Japan does not have). It also requires, and this has been discussed very little, the existence of public consultants capable of carrying out alternative assessments and providing expert support to local residents and environmental protection groups.