A typical SEA report will include (and will probably be structured roughly as):
- What SEA is and why it is required (or voluntarily being carried out);
- A description of the methodology used for the SEA: who was involved, when, and what techniques were used (including the assumptions made, how robust the findings are, data gaps);
- A description of the strategic action and its objectives;
- The context in which the strategic action is being proposed: environmental conditions, institutional constraints, relevant legislation etc.;
- The SEA framework if appropriate: SEA objectives, indicators, targets;
- What alternatives to the strategic action were considered, their impacts, why other alternatives were rejected or not considered, and what led to the choice of the preferred alternative
- Prediction, evaluation and proposed mitigation of the impacts of the draft strategic action, including an analysis of cumulative impacts, who wins and loses, why any remaining negative impacts are unavoidable, and remaining uncertainty; and
- How the strategic action was changed as a result of the SEA and any early consultation.
Techniques for documenting most of these points were discussed previously; the last point is discussed a bit more below.
At the risk of being over-simplistic, the SEA report should also include the stuff that makes it easy to read the report and to act on it later:
- table of contents;
- page number on every page;
- a map showing the area covered by the strategic action;
- a non-technical (or executive) summary of the information covered in the SEA report: this is often the only thing that decision-makers will read, and must therefore be written very carefully;
- the date of publication; and
- (where appropriate) by when comments on the SEA should be sent, and to whom.
'Tone' of the report
Where the SEA has been integrated in decision-making, as advocated in this course, the SEA report's main purpose is to document the SEA process. It will thus aim to describe the process and results, including any changes made to the strategic action in response to the SEA. Generally its tone will be relatively uncritical, and it will not carry much weight in decision-making since most relevant decisions will already have been made.
Where the SEA is a 'snapshot' carried out on a (near-)final strategic action - not best practice - then the aim of the SEA report is to identify/document the strategic action's negative impacts and make recommendations to counter these impacts. Such an SEA report is likely to be prepared by consultants or NGOs, and its tone may be much more critical. In such a case, the SEA report will be used by decision-makers as part of their final decision-making process, and thus carries considerable weight.
How the strategic action was changed as a result of the SEA
Possibly the most important part of the SEA is an explanation of what changes were made to the strategic action as a result of the SEA. Some of the changes to the strategic action may only occur after the SEA report has been written and made publicly available, particularly where the SEA is carried out late in the decision-making process; clearly these cannot be documented in the SEA report. But many changes should already have occurred before this time, and should be included in the SEA report. This will be important proof to the reader that the SEA was carried out in the right spirit: that it was a tool for improving the strategic action, rather than just a snapshot of the strategic action.
Such an explanation is a legal requirement in some SEA systems. For instance the European SEA Directive requires, once a plan or programme has been adopted, that:
"... the following items are made available...
- the plan or programme as adopted;
- a statement summarising how environmental considerations have been integrated into the plan or programme and how the environmental report..., the opinions [of statutory consultees and the public] and the results of [trans-boundary consultations] have been taken into account... and the reasons for choosing the plan or programme as adopted, in the light of the other reasonable alternatives dealt with, and
- the measures decided concerning monitoring..." (Article 9.1).
An example of how consultation results were taken on board will be shown later; and one showing how alternatives were chosen was already given at Unit 4 of the Assessment section. Below is an excerpt from another "Article 9.1 SEA statement":
The following table is part of an "SEA statement" of a UK local transport plan. What can you infer about the decision-making process from it? Does it help you to understand how the SEA affected the plan-making process?
(You can see the type of thinking behind some of answers by clicking on the links in the table)