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Strategic environmental assessment: Effective planning instrument or lost concept

Fischer, Thomas B.; Seaton, Kim


Thomas B. Fischer

Kim Seaton


After its 'invention' as a fairly clearly defined instrument for assessing the environmental impacts of policies, plans and programmes in the 1980s, at the end of the 1990s SEA appeared more an undefined concept than a clear and effective planning instrument. The positive and negative aspects of examined SEAs were not clearly communicated. Four main SEA characteristics gave rise to widespread confusion. These include SEA procedure, substantive aspects of SEA application, integration into the underlying policy, plan and programme process, and the role of the sector of its application. In order to clarify SEA methodology and thus enhance its application (and the position of SEA within the tiered decision-making hierarchy), at the beginning of the new millennium a more systematic approach was introduced. This was based on a decision-making hierarchy of policies, plans and programmes with associated tasks, differing mainly in substantive requirements. The three-tier approach helps decision makers to focus on the aspects appropriate to a particular situation. Therefore, the proposed system helps SEA practitioners and planners to obtain a clearer view as to whether they are likely to achieve their intended goals. Future SEA research tasks particularly include a critical discussion on whether planning systems might need to be changed and organised in a way that allows for a more effective and consistent consideration of all assessment issues considered in the three SEA types.


Fischer, T. B., & Seaton, K. (2002). Strategic environmental assessment: Effective planning instrument or lost concept. Planning Practice and Research, 17(1), 31-44.

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date Apr 30, 2002
Journal Planning Practice and Research
Print ISSN 0269-7459
Publisher Taylor & Francis (Routledge)
Peer Reviewed Not Peer Reviewed
Volume 17
Issue 1
Pages 31-44
Keywords strategic environmental assessment, planning
Public URL
Publisher URL

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