New environmental impact assessment rules herald new era in public planning

New EU rules will force national and local authorities to take environmental considerations into account for all major public projects from agriculture to transport, industry, energy or tourism.

The
Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) Directivehas entered into force, requiring public authorities
at national and local levels to assess the likely impact of their
decisions on the environment. As of 21 July, impact assessments
will formally be required for every project listed in the
Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Directive.

But so far, only nine Member States (Cyprus, Czech Republic,
Denmark, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Slovenia and the UK)
have fully implemented the directive, said Commissioner Wallström,
who urged the remaining sixteen to follow suit as quickly as
possible.

According to the UK Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, the
directive will have the greatest impact on planning and land use
plans, although the transport, water and energy sectors will also
be affected.

For instance, the UK Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) is
currently undertaking an environmental impact assessment of
offshore wind energy projects off the British coast. Although the
anticipated benefits in terms of clean electricity generation seem
obvious, the assessment examines other potential harmful effects
such as the impact on birds and marine ecology, the visual nuisance
and the possible consequences on other marine activities.

Crucially, the SEA directive also requires the wider public to
be consulted, allowing citizens and NGOs access to the draft plans
and obliging public authorities to take their views into
account.

Pointing to certain areas - such as defence, civil emergency,
financial and budget plans - already being exempted from the SEA
directive, the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) fears that
Member States will be tempted to restrict the text's ambitions even
more by a narrow interpretation of its provisions and allow more
exemptions. The EEB says that the priorities of environmental NGOs
should now focus on making sure that the SEA directive is
implemented correctly and that NGOs are allowed to actively
participate in the SEA process.

 

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