What is being assessed?
Once a preferred alternative (or set of alternatives) has been chosen - which may or may not be the most environmentally sensitive alternative - the competent authority will write a draft strategic action. This may look, for instance, like:
- formal statements or 'rules' that must be adhered to when development occurs,
- vaguer, more aspirational statements of direction change,
- lists of expected projects, possibly dates when they would be built, and possibly with statements of funding commitment, and/or
- maps showing where different forms of development can take place (or not).
An early step in SEA impact prediction will be to clarify what is being assessed. A side-benefit of SEA in that case will be to improve the clarity, and thus implementability, of the strategic action.
Initial questions that help to structure the assessment are:
- Does the strategic action have any obvious sub-components that should be assessed separately? For instance, where a strategic action is composed of formal 'rules', should each 'rule' could be separately assessed first, and then an overall assessment of the strategic action be carried out?
- Should the strategic action be assessed in conjunction with any other plans etc? For instance, a plan for a new town may not itself include a new road link to that town, but the town would not function without the road link. In such a case, the road link may also need to be assessed.
- What is the strategic action likely to look like when implemented? For instance, the two objectives discussed in Unit 2 are likely to lead to very different projects on the ground: roads and parking lots v. bus lanes.
In many cases it will not be clear just what is being assessed: the strategic action may be phrased in such a woolly way that it is impossible to imagine what it will 'look like', or it may not say what the competent authority really wants it to say. If this isn't rectified, then the plan may be implemented in a way that the competent authority hadn't intended. It may be necessary to check what the plan author means, and modify the plan wording accordingly, before the assessment can take place.
The figure below represents a typical early stage of SEA of a draft strategic action. Two sustainability officers from a local authority, Thelma and Louise, are appraising their colleague Chen's draft policy X, 'To discourage the use of unsuitable minor roads.'
This example highlights several points about assessing a draft strategic action:
- The assessment process often identifies parts of a strategic action that are unclear or fuzzy. If assessors can interpret a strategic in several different ways, then so can the people who later implement the strategic action. So the assessment process is useful in helping to ensure that the strategic action will be implemented in the way that its author intended.
- It is helpful to involve the author in the assessment process. Thelma and Louise are having to go back to Chen to see what he meant: this could have been avoided if Chen had been part of the assessment team in the first place.
- It is helpful to involve several people in the assessment because they can have different points of view.
- Simply because of their strategic nature, strategic actions will have an element of uncertainty. The assessment process has to deal with that. In this case, it is probably essential to know what 'unsuitable' and 'minor' mean, though it is probably not essential to know exactly which roads are unsuitable and minor.
The assessment of a draft strategic action will typically be more detailed than that for the alternatives. The focus of SEA at this stage is to identify ways of fine-tuning the preferred alternative, and mitigating its impacts.
An example is shown below. It looks at the preferred alternative - Option 2 - from the alternatives assessment of Unit 4, which has in the meanwhile been elaborated as a series of strategic action sub-components. Each sub-component is tested against each SEA objective in the SEA framework. The example shows the plan's impacts on the SEA objective on travel and accessibility. While reading the assessment table, please note:
- The links to the baseline information help to put the assessment in context.
- The last column suggests mitigation measures
- The summary considers the plan's overall/cumulative impact on the SEA objective
- The assessment could also be done the other way: by testing each component of the strategic action against all the SEA objectives, i.e. have one table per component, rather than one table per SEA objective.
Baseline information (from the Scoping Report)
Bus services within the authority are very poor, partly as a result of the spine and branch road network within the restricted pattern of the tributary valleys.
35% of the authority's residents travel to other authorities for work; and 43% travel outside the authority more than once a week for shopping ...
|Strategic action sub-component||Likely impact of policy on objective||Possible changes to sub-component|
Overall the preferred options are likely to have a positive effect in terms of reducing the need to travel per person. However it is unlikely that average per person's need to travel will go down by the amount needed so as to balance out the proposed increase in population, so overall the need to travel is likely to increase.
Particularly positive sub-components of the strategic action are...
Particularly negative policies are ...
Mitigation measures and possible changes to the plan
1. Development will be permitted provided:
The sheer level of growth proposed for the district without correspondingly strong safeguards regarding the need to travel means that this is likely to get worse.
|2. Maximum use should be made of brownfield land. Housing developments should be carried out at the maximum density appropriate to their location.||
The policy emphasises the redevelopment of brownfield land (which is typically in or near urban areas), and on relatively high density housing (which makes it easier to locate jobs, services etc. near where people live). This should help to reduce the need to travel.
|Emphasis should be given to building on brownfield land that is in or near urban areas|
|3. ...Development will not be permitted unless the necessary infrastructure to support it is either already in place or there is a reliable mechanism to ensure that it will be provided at the time it is needed.||
The policy does not specify whether transport infrastructure is covered. If it is, then the policy's impact will depend on how it is implemented: what new infrastructure is provided (e.g. road link, cycle path) and where.
|Specify what infrastructure is covered by this policy|
Last column: suggests mitigation measures
Summary: considers overall/cumulative impact on the SEA objective.
The assessment could also be done the other way: by testing each component of the strategic action against all the SEA objectives, i.e. have one table per component, rather than one table per SEA objective.
The focus of SEA at this stage is to identify ways of fine-tuning the preferred alternative, and mitigating its impacts.