Sustainability Appraisal (SA) and Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA)

By Fischer, Thomas; Gazzola, Paola | The Town Planning Review, July 1, 2007 | Go to article overview

Sustainability Appraisal (SA) and Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA)


Fischer, Thomas, Gazzola, Paola, The Town Planning Review


This report covers the proceedings and conclusions of the joint conference held by the RTPI (Royal Town Planning Institute - North West Region) and IAIA (International Association for Impact Assessment - Ireland-UK Branch) at the University of Liverpool on 31 October 2006.1 The conference was attended by 108 delegates, including members from regional and local government, consultancies and academia2 and was divided into two parts: (i) a plenary morning session with presentations of papers; and (ii) an afternoon session, in which RTPI delegates were involved in practical exercises and IAIA delegates attended PhD students' presentations and held a Branch meeting. The day concluded with a general discussion on progress and problems with SA/ SEA.

Six papers were presented during the morning plenary session:

* 'The presentation of baseline data in local development frameworks (LDFs), core strategies, area action plans (AAPs) and supplementary planning documents (SPDs)' by Andrew Teague (Building Design Partnership, Liverpool);

* 'Identifying and assessing suitable alternatives in LDFs, core strategies, AAPs and SPDs' by Riki Therivel (Levett-Therivel/Oxford Brookes University);

* 'Sustainability Appraisal of the North West Regional Spatial Strategy' by Matthew Wilkinson (NW Regional Assembly, Wigan);

* 'Effective consultation and public participation' by Lisa Palframan (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds [RSPB]);

* 'SEA in Scottish Spatial Planning' by Neil Deasley (Scottish Environmental Protection Agency); and

* 'Emerging evidence: reviewing the quality of 92 SA reports' by Chris Bamber (Government Office North West [GONW]), Alexandra Webster and Matthew Gregg (Liverpool University MPlan students)

During the afternoon the RTPI delegates were sub-divided into six groups, consisting of about ten delegates each. Using a total of 12 SA reports and an SA quality review package, each group conducted practical exercises on the presentation and use of baseline data, the establishment and assessment of options and the differences between SAs prepared at different administrative levels. Facilitators from each group later reported back on the findings to all delegates.

IAIA delegates first attended presentations of three student papers by Ainhoa Gonzalez ('Spatial Data and GIS in SEA') and Susanne Tschirner ('GIS and expert systems for SEA'), both from the Dublin Institute of Technology, and by Lynne McGowan ('The role of options in plan making and SEA') from Liverpool University. These were followed by a general discussion on future Ireland-UK Branch activities.

Summary of paper presentations in the morning session

The papers in the morning session mainly focused on emerging good practice and identifying and discussing problems of current practice.

Andrew Teague talked about the BDP approach to presenting baseline data. In addition to the production of tables listing potentially relevant data, policies, plans and programmes, this task also involves providing explanations for how those elements are relevant and how they are used in assessment. Good practice examples were presented from appraisals conducted at different administrative levels. In this context, the usefulness of GIS mapping was highlighted.

Riki Therivel presented an overview of the 'does and don'ts' of identifying suitable alternatives/options. In this context, the importance of identifying 'real', reasonable and realistic options was stressed. 'Pseudo' options, such as 'plan or no plan' or 'made up' options (such as 'restrict amount of development land, not taking account of local needs') should be avoided she advised. An approach whereby alternatives are established for each development policy (which normally results in hundreds or possibly even thousands of alternatives) should also be avoided. In appraisal, the focus should be on identifying the main issues dealt with in the actual plan-making process for the authority early enough to influence the choice of alternatives. …

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