The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Directive came into force in 1985 and was followed by the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) Directive (2001/42/EC) in 2001.

The procedures differ in their scope: the SEA Directive applies to plans and programmes, whereas the EIA Directive applies only to projects. The EIA Directive covers both public and private projects, whereas the SEA Directive applies mainly to public plans and programmes.

There is a functional link between the EIA and SEA Directives as the SEA Directive requires an environmental assessment to be carried out for all plans and programmes prepared for certain sectors and which set the framework for future development consent of projects listed in Annexes I and II of the EIA Directive.

There is also a link between these Directives and Article 6(3) of the Habitats Directive (92/43/EC), which requires an ‘Appropriate Assessment’ for plans and projects which are likely to have a negative impact on Natura 2000 sites.

These Directives can be thought of as an embodiment of the preventative approach to environmental protection. They create obligations for assessing the potential environmental effects of a plan, programme or project but do not require Member States to refuse to approve activities that are damaging to the environment.

In the future these Directives, and in particular the SEA Directive, are likely to have a more prominent role as a procedure that can be used in a more imaginative and proactive way to better incorporate the environment into land use planning. This does not necessarily mean the identification and mitigation of only negative impacts on the environment, but also the development of approaches where positive environmental impacts are identified.

Key work in this area:

Coherence of Natura 2000 projects and SEA. This ongoing project for DG Environment aims to provide guidance on how to improve the consideration of Natura 2000 in SEA, not only on site level, but as a network.

A report with RSPB on Positive Planning for Onshore Wind: Expanding Onshore Wind Energy Capacity While Conserving Nature setting out how onshore wind planning in the UK can be improved.

Regarding work in this area please contact:

Peter Hjerp
Graham Tucker