Scottish Strategic Environmental Assessment Review PublishedPublished 09 August 2011 in Environmental Quality
A review of the efficiency and effectiveness of Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) in Scotland was published on 21 July. The review concluded that the fundamental components of SEA in Scotland are generally sound and fit for purpose, but that there is considerable scope for changes that would make SEA more effective at protecting and improving the environment, more proportionate and more flexible to accommodate novel, resource efficient approaches.
SEA, which aims to ensure that public sector policy-makers embed environmental considerations into strategies, plans and programmes, first came into force in Scotland following the Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive of July 2001. The Directive was further strengthened with the passing of the Environmental Assessment (Scotland) Act in 2005.
Last month's review, led and authored by SEPA, in association with SNH and Historic Scotland, is the first full review of SEA process and practice in Scotland.
The review, which involved significant research including casework analysis, a survey of practitioners and practitioner workshops, found that there was "no requirement to fundamentally reconsider how to legislate for or to undertake SEA in Scotland", and that following the 2005 Act, SEA has been "very well regarded by practitioners and stakeholders, is generally working effectively and places Scotland among the leaders in this field."
However, the review also found there was considerable scope for improving the SEA process, and offered 10 key recommendations to promote better efficiency and effectiveness in Scottish SEA practice:
- Promoting the value of SEA: Developing a better understanding and 'buy in' among policymakers of the role and benefits of SEA in plan-making as a fundamental pre-requisite for delivering other improvements.
- Improving efficiency and proportionality: Through the implementation of a series of process improvements designed to reduce duplication, eliminate unnecessary work and streamline the assessment process.
- Improving the focus of assessments: Making sure assessments focus only on those issues of importance for the environment.
- Improving the influence of SEA in policy-making: Enabling more integrated approaches where policy development and assessment occur together to improve the influence that SEA has over the preparation of a plan.
- Providing greater clarity: Ensuring that SEAs, when published, are much easier to understand and offer clarity about the potential environmental effects of a plan and how they should be addressed.
- Improving the role of mitigation and enhancement: Ensuring that the SEA process identifies deliverable ways to address potential environmental effects through effective mitigation and enhancement measures.
- Targeting guidance and support: Developing good practice in a number of critical areas of need, such as the consideration of alternatives.
- Helping to deliver climate change targets: Enabling SEA to play a much stronger role in the delivery of actions to meet the targets and public bodies duties set in the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009.
- Improving stakeholder and public involvement in SEA: Enabling practice that secures earlier and enhanced involvement of those with an interest in the SEA.
- Scope for further work: Suggestions for areas of further investigation that have come up during the review.