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  Handing on
our Heritage

Strategic Environmental Assessment


The building of new transport routes requires funding and consent including compliance with legal obligations. Environmental assessment and protected area status therefore are particularly important with respect to the maintenance of landscape and biological diversity.


Strategic environmental assessment (SEA) enables an appraisal of plans policies and programmes including strategic alternatives or groups of transport projects and multi-modal networks. SEA is an essential step in the delivery of the transport policies discussed earlier and is particularly relevant for plans, policies and programmes covering several states (trans-boundary). Such forward planning should provide a logical basis for decision-making, including the avoidance of sensitive environmental components like protected areas possibly in the adjoining state.


In isolation the environmental impact assessment of short sections of strategic routes can result in major problems on account of the lack of an overview. The Via Egnatia Motorway across Greece (Box 3.1) and the road/rail Řresund link between Denmark and Sweden are two examples of how strategic environmental assessment could have informed decision makers of the consequences on habitats of European importance (Bina et al,1997).


The application of geographical information systems (GIS) (a type of software for managing and displaying geographical information often using a thematic layering technique) in SEA has proved a useful tool (Box 3.2). However, as with any data its value is dependent on the quality of the database with interpretation guided by understanding the context and limitations of that data. For example, planning a route only to avoid protected areas could overlook the dynamic aspects of landscapes such as migration paths between protected areas, or the relationship between protected areas and other dependent landscapes, such as a river catchments.


The Declaration of the Fourth Ministerial conference at Aarhus in 1998 clearly recognised:


"strategic environmental assessment facilitates the systematic analyses of the environmental impacts of proposed policies, plans and programmes and invite countries and international finance institutions to introduce and/or carry out strategic environmental assessments with the appropriate participation of NGOs and citizens. We emphasise that –with a view to the integration of environmental considerations in the decision-making process in other policies – assessments of international sectorial policies, plans and programmes in the UN/ECE region in areas such as transport, energy and agriculture should be undertaken as a matter of priority".


Much of the European Union network crosses through accession states seeking to join the Union. Under the Espoo Convention (1991) signatories from 34 states agreed to co-operate in assessing the environmental impact of trans-boundary projects. This includes major highways and long distance railways as well as policies, plans and programmes.


The Community Guidelines for TEN-T (No 1692/96/EC, CEC 1996) under Article 8 require the Commission to develop methods for the analysis of the environmental effects of the whole transport network and corridors. A manual has been produced setting out an overview of strategic environmental assessment methods to be used for transport infrastructure (CEC 1998). Currently there is no legal requirement for its use in assessing transport plans, policies and programmes other than in certain member states such as France. A SEA Directive is due to be accepted by the European Union for the assessment of transport plans and programmes.


A meeting of the European Federation for Transport and the Environment (Fergusson 2000) noted the current absence of SEA for the TINA proposals. With the advancement of the proposals, concern was expressed that the undertaking of SEA would not necessarily ensure that significant changes could be made. A variety of other organisations, in particular Bird life International, have likewise expressed concern.

Box 3.1 Example of where SEA would have been beneficial


 Strategic environmental assessment would have been beneficial in the case of 780 km Via Egnatia motorway across Greece. The entire motorway was divided into short 25 km sections to assess the environmental effects. This piecemeal approach prevented an assessment of the cumulative effects including meaningful alternatives. In particular, the assessments of sensitive nature conservation areas were omitted. One section of the motorway would have crossed the habitat of brown bear, a species protected under the EC Habitats Directive. However, as a result of the action of a non-governmental organisation, this particular section was cancelled. (Bina et al, 1995), (EC DG VII 1998)



Box 3.2 Examples of the use of SEA


In Germany an ecological risk assessment was undertaken of the Federal Transport Infrastructure Plan. The risk analysis included consideration of information on land use and conflicts with protected areas. Alternatives with a low score were downgraded or rejected. A similar approach using GIS has been applied in Flanders, Belgium, for a new highway between Jabbeke and Knokke.


A pilot study undertaken by BirdLife International examined the potential impacts of some of the TEN-T programme. Also this used a SEA in combination with GIS but was frustrated at a European level by the lack of availability of data sets including sites protected under the Habitats Directive. A more detailed assessment was undertaken of France on account of a more complete data base. The findings indicated that a large number of designated sites would be in close proximity to, and therefore at risk from, proposed roads and railways. (Bina et al, 1997)


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