Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA)


Since 1985 an EU Directive has required that large scale development projects which have potentially significant impacts on the environment must undergo a process known as Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) before they can be approved in the planning system. This process involves the preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement which must describe the environmental effects of the development proposal under a range of environmental headings (e.g. soil, air, water etc.). It  must also describe the consideration of alternatives and list a range of mitigation measures that can be undertaken to reduce the significant environmental impacts if they are predicted to occur.

More recently, this process has been augmented by Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) which requires a similar type of assessment of plans and programmes as distinct from individual projects. SEA is the process by which environmental considerations are required to be fully integrated into the preparation and adoption of major plans and programmes. It is an assessment of plans that are likely to have a considerable impact on the environment.

The aim of the SEA is to promote sustainable development and consider how impacts on the environment can be reduced at an early stage of planning. The process is specifically concerned with biodiversity, human health, flora and fauna, water, air, cultural heritage and climate.

SEA has been mandatory since July 2004, and over 51% of assessments so far have been concerned with Spatial Planning, i.e. the consideration of development plans and local area plans. SEA is also required for any development plans in the areas of agriculture, forestry, transport, waste management, water management, tourism, urban and rural planning.

For more information on the steps involved in an SEA and on how to draw up an SEA, see the EPA website.

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