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Environmental Assessment (EA) covers both Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA). Public consultation and participation are fundamental to the preparation phases of both EIA and SEA but the procedures operate at different levels, with EIA relating to individual projects whilst SEA is carried out on plans and programmes at a strategic level. Both are concerned with ensuring that environmental implications are systematically considered before an activity happens.

The EU EIA Directive was implemented in 1988 with the current Scottish legislation being the Environmental Impact Assessment ( Scotland ) Regulations 1999 . The EIA Directive’s main aim was to ensure that the authority giving primary consent (the ‘competent authority’) for a particular project makes its decision in the knowledge of any likely significant effects on the environment. (Planning Circular 15/1999). Although EIA has been required for certain developments since 1988, it was recognized that it only applied at the project level. The environmental impacts of wider policy or planning decision were not subject to the same scrutiny.

The EU Directive on the Assessment of Certain Plans and Programmes on the Environment (a.k.a. the SEA Directive), was adopted in June 2001 and transposed in Scottish legislation as The Environmental Assessment of Plans and Programmes ( Scotland ) Regulations 2004 . The SEA Directive aims to ensure that the cumulative and interactive environmental consequences of certain plans and programmes, and alternatives to them, are identified and critically assessed before adoption (Reid, 2005). A key observation is that in the past economic and/or social considerations have tended to dominate the policy making process, but SEA establishes a formal process for including environmental considerations.

No Environmental Reports had been completed in Scotland under the 2004 Regulations although 12 are underway (Reid, 2005). Table 26.1 highlights the key differences between SEA and EIA.

Table 26.1: Key differences between SEA and EIA


Strategic Environmental Assessment Environmental Impact Assessment

Applies only to individual projects

No Yes

Site specific

No Yes

Can consider cumulative effects

Yes No

Can consider interacting effects

Yes No

Constrained to specific project

No Yes

Source: adapted from Reid (2004)


Under the current Partnership Agreement (2003), the Executive will “introduce SEA to ensure that the full environmental impacts of all new strategies, programmes and plans developed by the public sector are properly considered”. All the provisions of the 2004 Regulations are incorporated within the Environmental Assessment ( Scotland ) Bill as introduced to the Scottish Parliament on 2 March 2005 . But critically…

… the Environmental Assessment Bill provides that certain authorities and bodies (e.g. local authorities, Scottish Executive) will be required to undertake an SEA for all their plans and programmes unless they have minimal or no likely significant environmental effects. This will include agriculture and forestry strategies.