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C7n EIA and SEA tiering: The missing link?

Jos Arts, Ministry of Transport, The Netherlands
Paul Tomlinson, TRL Ltd., UK
Henk Voogd, University of Groningen, The Netherlands

Key issues to be addressed

Position Paper:

Early in the development of the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) concept, the idea of tiering of environmental assessment at different planning levels was put forward as a key element. Moreover, the idea of tiering can be even considered as one of the major drivers for the development of SEA (see, e.g., Therivel et al. 1992, UNECE 1992, Wood & Djeddour 1992, Therivel & Partidario 1996, Sadler & Verheem 1996, Partidario 1999, Fischer 2002, Wood 2003). Many spatial decisions that have a bearing on environmental quality are taken at a higher level of decision making than the project level; as Partidario (1999, p.60) indicates , “The reasons [for SEA] are various but initially related to the timing of project EIA, i.e., it enters the decision-making process at too late a stage to be able the final decision in a satisfactory way.” Tiering means that by preparing a sequence of environmental assessments at different planning levels and linking them, foreclosure may be prevented, postponement of detailed issues may be permitted and assessments can be better scoped. A tiered approach minimises the problem of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) being only a “snapshot in time.” Accordingly, the EU SEA-Directive (2001/42/EC) explicitly assumes tiering of SEAs and EIAs at different planning levels and the SEA and EIA Directive are directly linked (e.g., article 3(2) of Directive 2001/42/EC requires SEA for those plans and programs, which set the framework for future development consent of EIA projects).

Although tiering is an important notion to SEA and EIA in academic literature, it is hardly discussed in a critical manner (Tomlinson & Fry 2002). Surely the concept of tiering might provide a means to address the complexity of planning and decision-making, which environmental assessments must operate. However, its implicit assumption of a linear planning process does not fit well with the dynamic nature of planning and decision-making in practice. For instance, there may be still a considerable gap between a strategic plan subject to SEA and project development with EIA. In planning practice, all too often project decisions and EIAs may precede strategic plans and the SEAs that should provide the framework for project decision-making. Nevertheless, it is clear that good coordination between planning levels and between SEA and EIA is needed to achieve sound (sustainable?) planning, efficient and effective decision-making. The question is: how can the link between SEA and EIA that is all too often missing be made operational and what is the actual and potential role of tiering?

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