SEA Issues

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Should SEA also consider economic and social impacts?

A lot has been written about the advantages and disadvantages of broadening out SEA to also cover social and economic issues. See for instance:

In England and Wales, both SEA and sustainability appraisal are required for land use plans, and the two systems are normally integrated: see ODPM (2005) Sustainability appraisal of regional spatial strategies and local development documents.

Should SEA help to identify plan alternatives or just test existing alternatives?

In the UK, one of the key benefits of SEA seems to be that it encourages planners to formally consider alternatives. That has led to some truly poor alternatives being put forward, e.g. "proposed plan, old plan, no plan". Several consultants have put together a guide for their clients on how to develop alternatives: see http://www.levett-therivel.co.uk, under 'SEA'.

How can the effectiveness of SEA be judged?

Thissen (2000) gives an excellent overview of different aspects of SEA effectiveness.

Lawrence (1997) distinguishes between the quality of institutional arrangements, SEA methods and other 'inputs'; and the effectiveness of their consequences/'ouputs'. Effectiveness relates to achievement of goals, realisation of impacts impact management measures as forecast, quality of recommendations arising from the process, regulatory compliance, and maintenance of environmental quality.

Sadler (1996) suggests that SEA effectiveness relates to application of SEA principles and provisions contribution to decision-making implementation of terms and provisions set out in the SEA, and eventual environmental benefits. He also distinguishes between 'direct' benefits of SEA such as withdrawal of environmentally harmful proposals and impact reduction, and 'indirect' benefits such as stimulation of research and community development.

Therivel and Minas (2002) use as an indicator of SEA effectiveness whether the strategic action was changed as a result of the SEA. They suggest that changes are only likely to result if the SEA recommends changes to the strategic action, these changes make the strategic action more sustainable, and the changes are included in the strategic action. They found that, in the UK, SEA has considerable 'indirect' benefits in terms of making the plan-making process more transparent, giving planners a better understanding of their plans, and improving planners' general understanding of the environment.


Sadler, B. (1996) Environmental assessment in a changing world: evaluating practice to improve performance, Canadian Environmental Agency/IAIA, Minister of Supply and Services Canada.

Therivel, R. and P. Minas (2002) 'Ensuring effective SEA in a changing context', Ipact Assessment and Project Appraisal 29(2), pp. 81-91.

Thissen, W.A. (2000) "Criteria for Evaluation of SEA", Ch. 8 in Partidario, M. and R. Clark, Perspectives on Strategic Environmental Assessment, Lewis Publishers, Boca Raton.


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