Book Review"Strategic Environmental Assessment in Transport and Land Use Planning"

In International Review for Environmental Strategies (IRES) Volume3 Number2 (Winter 2002)
Peer-reviewed Article

The roots of the concept of strategic environmental assessment (SEA) go back to the U.S. National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969, while the actual term was coined in the U.K. in 1989 in an effort to find a clear distinction between project-based environmental impact assessment and the assessment of policies above the project level. The European Union (E.U.) officially adopted an SEA directive in 2001. The application of SEA has grown significantly in Europe since the early 1990s, especially after its formal recognition. This book reports the findings of a Ph.D. study on the comparative analysis of SEA in transport and land-use planning in selected regions of three European countries-North West England, Noord Holland (Netherlands), and EVR a Brandenburg Berlin (Germany). It attempts to explore the extent of SEA application in transportation and land use and explains the observed patterns, along with suggestions for improving SEA practices.

The book is organized into four parts. Part I consists of two chapters. The first reviews past literature and then discusses background information, such as the history and development of SEA to date, as well as the benefits and effectiveness of SEA. This chapter provides general information and gives readers an understanding of SEA. Chapter 2 provides methodological details and the procedures used in this book. It also introduces the choice and identification of the sample regions, and discusses problems in comparative research, such as data gaps and the lack of a common basis for comparison. This chapter builds an analytical framework in order to compare SEA practices that could be distinctly different from one to another. Part II consists of Chapters 3 and 4. Chapter 3 mainly discusses the political and administrative context, planning systems, planning instruments, and their legislation and guidance for transport, spatial, and land-use planning in the three case study regions. The interaction and synergy between national, regional, and local level plans and the decision-making framework for transportation and land-use planning are discussed. Chapter 4 identifies plans, programs, and policies (PPPs); a total of 36 PPPs covering all administrative levels are presented, making the case for comparative analysis. These PPPs are assessed, based on four context variables: relevancy, accountability, inter-modality, and procedure. Part 3 presents the empirical research results of SEA in Chapters 5 to 8. Chapter 5 compares SEA practices by the extent of application and type of SEA classification. Planning levels, sectoral coverage, procedures, and impact coverage are the themes of classification. Chapter 6 provides a comparison of the opinions of policymakers on the SEA practices and their attitudes towards the application of formalised SEA in 36 PPP cases. The opinions of authorities on the influence of current assessments in the PPP process were less positive than their opinions on the quality of assessments. Authorities thought that integration of formalised SEA in existing processes was possible but feared that it would cause delays. However, at the same time, they believed that formalizing SEA would accelerate projects and lead to a better environment for PPP preparation. Chapter 7 discusses how SEA could lead to sustainability. This chapter recognises that SEA may address environmental, social, and economic aspects in an integrated way, and therefore, functions as a sustainability test. The cross-sectional analysis of 36 PPPs reveals that SEA was not able to provide better consideration of sustainability objectives and targets, but it was able to provide better consideration of sustainability measures. Chapter 8 discusses potential benefits of SEA application. Five benefits assessed here are wider consideration of impacts, proactive tools for sustainable development, strengthening of project environment impact assessment, systematic consideration of the environment, and consultation and participation. Part 4, with two chapters, provides a summary and conclusions.

The results of the research presented in this book endorse a few common notions that are popular in SEA and refute others. As opposed to the common notion that SEA experience is limited, even in the E.U., the outcomes suggest that SEA experience is more extensive than often suggested. SEA principles are found to be not very different from project environmental impact assessment principles. For contribution towards sustainability, the results of SEA could not always score high on sustainability objectives, targets, and measures. This book suggests ways for improving current SEA practices. These include developing tiered SEA systems consisting of vertical and horizontal tiers of administrative level with assimilating policies, plans, and programs. The book also emphases complete coverage on procedural stages of SEA, integration of SEA into PPP, and the importance of starting SEA early, along with an extensive consultative process.

This book will be useful for professionals in SEA and policymakers who need to assess their policies, plans, and programs. It provides useful tools for beginners as well as experts on the modalities and usefulness of SEA, as derived from empirical research. The book covers less on how to carry out SEA but more on how SEA stands in these three E.U. regions in terms of practices and how authorities view its usefulness. The whole thesis of this book is based on a questionnaire survey of different levels of administration and PPP in transportation and land-use planning in the three selected regions. In that sense the results are very context specific. Such assessment in other regions, especially in Asia, can employ the broad methodology used in this book, but the context, criteria, and theme of comparison would have to be changed significantly. SEA is not yet formalised in the Asian region, and there is a need to disseminate information about its usefulness, in which case this book could be a milestone.

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