Since July 2004, many of the plans and programmes that will shape the future of your area have to go through a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA).
This is a useful tool which can support campaigns and help to prevent damage to the environment. It is important that we all use it to help protect the countryside. SEA was introduced by an EU directive which states:
'....The purpose of the SEA-Directive is to ensure that environmental consequences of certain plans and programmes are identified and assessed during their preparation and before their adoption...'
A SEA is required when a 'plan' or 'programme' is being proposed.
According to the SEA directive, it's a document produced by a public body and required by legislation, a regulation or an administrative order.
Strategic environmental assessment is needed for plans and programmes which are in the local development plan, or are to do with:
If a plan or programme is likely to affect a special area of conservation, such as one of Europe's top wildlife sites, then an assessment should normally be undertaken.
Other plans and programmes may require one if they are likely to have a significant effect on the environment.
If the plan or programme only affects 'small areas at local level', or if revisions to it represent only 'minor modifications', then it may be exempt from a SEA.
Neither of these terms have been defined properly by the SEA directive or the Government, so they could be open to abuse. However, if a plan or programme falls into this category, an assessment should be made by the authority to see if it is likely to generate significant environmental effects. If so, a SEA will be required.
The SEA directive is officially called the Directive on the Assessment of Certain Plans and Programmes on the Environment (and is known as Directive 2001/42/EC).
The main objective of the SEA directive is to '...provide for a high level of environmental protection and to contribute to the integration of environmental considerations into the preparation and adoption of plans and programmes...' (Article 1 of the SEA Directive)
In England, the SEA Directive is implemented by the Environmental Assessment of Plans and Programmes Regulations 2004.
It is supplemented by guidance to planning authorities on SEA. The lead Government department in England with responsibility for SEA is the Department for Communities and Local Government.
The SEA directive and the regulations which implement it in the UK set out precisely what should be in an SEA report.
If you are checking the quality of an SEA report and want to know that it covers everything it should, then it is best looking at Annex I of the Directive, which provides full details.