Strategic Environmental Assessment as an intervention - effects of the EU directive 2001/42/EC on the integration of environmental aspects in planning.

The MiSt Programme

The overall objective of this project is to give new insights into the effectiveness of Strategic Environmental Assessment as a tool to integrate environmental aspects into land-use planning. The current practice and experience of applying SEA in land use planning at the municipal level in Denmark, Iceland and Sweden will be examined and conclusions drawn of the potential impacts of the EU directive 2001/42/EC on the existing practice.

When introduced to land-use planning, it can be argued that the international SEA methodology is essentially based upon the assumption that comprehensive planning is an instrumental rational decision-making process (Lawrence, 2000), and the actual experiences of the decision making context are often overlooked.   The basic practical problem addressed in this project is the perceived lack of systematic evaluations and empirical investigations of the experiences of SEA as applied to the municipal planning process. In order to prognosticate the effect of the implementation of the EU directive 2001/42/EC, improved knowledge is needed on the context that SEA is being introduced to. This includes that systematic knowledge of the existing SEA practice and of environmental integration in land use planning in the municipalities, as well as the legal and institutional framework, needs to be established.

The project will be based upon a comparative approach; including a review of the national planning contexts and case studies at the municipal level in three Nordic countries: Denmark, Iceland and Sweden, examining 1 – 2 municipalities in each country.  The main empirical studies will provide an overview of the current practice and experiences of SEA in municipal land use planning, as well as a review of the existing legal requirements for land use planning and SEA nationally. This will be analysed in relation to legal and political expectations of SEA to contribute to integration of environmental issues as well as the normative assumptions behind the international SEA discourse and the EU directive and different planning theories and doctrines.

The following questions form overall points of departure for the studies:

-  What are the existing demands in national legislation (planning or other relevant legislation) on Environmental Assessment and what has been the demonstrated effect of this demand on municipal planning?

-  What similarities and differences in national implementation of the SEA legislation have been found and how do those relate to the national planning context and the national goals for sustainable development? 

-  What are the national expectations concerning the role of comprehensive planning to contribute to Sustainable Development and how do these match the assumed potential of planning as a strategic tool, illustrated in the SEA discourse?

-  What municipal experiences exist on the integration of environmental issues and use of impact assessment as a tool for implementing sustainable development?

-  What kind of potential intervention, innovations or retrogression, in relation to the above issues, does the EU SEA directive introduce in the countries studied?

The project contributes to the MiSt programme through addressing the overall questions presented in the programme. Furthermore it shares issues with other projects included in the programme, e.g. the focus on developing different aspects of SEA (projects 2, 7 and 9), with special focus on the municipal planning level (project 1 and 3), environmental and process effectiveness (project 8).

The research outcomes are intended to gain actors at both national and local level in Sweden, Denmark and Iceland, i.e. officials at ministries and governmental agencies as well as municipal planners. The added value of working in a comparative context includes an improved understanding of the countries’ own systems and options in implementation. The project will be launched at the time when the requirements of SEA have been included in national legislation in all the Nordic countries and the requirements for implementation are in place. This timing provides an opportunity to examine the first steps of actual implementation of the legal requirements at the existing planning levels. Furthermore, the research results will add to the common knowledge base on practice in the Nordic countries that will provide an input to the European and international discussion on SEA in land use planning and strengthening the specific Nordic profile in this context.

The project leader is Dr. Tuija Hilding-Rydevik, Nordregio, and the main part of the work will be carried out by Hólmfrídur Bjarnadóttir, Nordregio. The project is Hólmfrídur Bjarnadóttir’s PhD study, carried out at the Blekinge Institute of Technology (BTH) and Nordregio. Supervisor for the PhD studies is Lars Emmelin, BTH, and assistant supervisor is Tuija Hilding-Rydevik, Nordregio.

The overall outcome of the project will be the production of a PhD thesis, written by Hólmfrídur Bjarnadóttir. Scientific articles will be produced on the basis of each part of the project as well as the findings will be published in working reports, for the use of practitioners in Sweden and the other Nordic countries.



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