What is Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) ?
SEA is a widely used term with various definitions, but is now most often used to mean the process required by the European “SEA Directive” (2001/42/EU “on the assessment of the effects of certain plans and programmes on the environment”).
The SEA Directive:
- is intended “to provide for a high level of protection of the environment and to contribute to the integration of environmental considerations into the preparation and adoption of plans and programmes with a view to promoting sustainable development”.
- applies to plans or programmes that are required by legislative, regulatory or administrative provisions and set the framework for development consent of projects.
- requires assessment of the plan or programme’s likely significant effects on the environment, including on issues such as biodiversity, population, human health, fauna, flora, soil, water, air, climatic factors, material assets, cultural heritage and landscape, and the interrelationship between them. Effects can be both direct and indirect, cumulative, synergistic, short, medium and long term, permanent and temporary, positive and negative.
The Directive requires the predicted effects to be set out in an Environmental Report, which is published alongside the proposals for the plan or programme when the public is consulted. Inputs on the content of the Environmental Report must be sought from designated SEA Consultation Bodies (in England, the Environment Agency, Natural England and English Heritage). Under the current regulations there is no statutory consultee on health in England but Government Departments are in discussion about the possibility that the Department of Health will be made a statutory consultee at some future date. The Report must cover alternatives (e.g. options in the draft plan/programme) and mitigation measures. The Report and responses to consultation must be taken into account when the plan or programme is finalised, and information made available on how this was done.
For spatial plans and a number of other plans and programmes, SEA is incorporated within a wider Sustainability Appraisal (SA), covering the full range of social and economic effects. This can be a very helpful framework for establishing the connections between health and factors such as employment and community cohesion.
Application of SEA