Assessment of strategic level planning

08 Aug 2016 - 18:16 | Version 1 |

Strategic environmental assessment (SEA)

A SEA is a comprehensive environmental assessment that may be prepared in the early planning stages of a major land use policy initiative (s 99). The SEA is intended to assess the social, economic and environmental impacts of major development plans, changes in planning policy and major plan variations.

ACTPLA must prepare a SEA:
  • for a review of the TP (s 103)
  • if directed by the minister (s 100)--for example, the minister may direct ACTPLA to prepare a SEA for a draft TP variation (s 62) or for a draft plan of management (s 322).
ACTPLA may also prepare a SEA if satisfied that it is necessary or convenient to do so in relation to a matter relevant to the object of the Planning Act (the orderly and sustainable development of the ACT, consistent with the social, environmental and economic aspirations of the people of the ACT and in accordance with sound financial principles) (ss 6, 100).

The SEA process

Chapter 2 of the Planning and Development Regulation 2008 (ACT) ('Planning

Regulation
') sets out the elements of the SEA process, comprised of five stages (reg 11(1)):
  • stage A--setting context and establishing baseline
  • stage B--developing alternatives and deciding scope
  • stage C--assessing environmental benefits and impacts
  • stage D--consultation
  • stage E--monitoring, if a decision is made at stage C that monitoring is required.
It should be noted that although this process is presented in a linear form in regulation 11(1) of the Planning Regulation, the process is more organic and fluid in nature than this presentation would suggest. The stages do not have to be completed in any particular order, and more than one stage may be conducted at a time (reg 11(2)). For example, consultation is a recurring consideration and activity throughout the process. A consultation plan is prepared as part of Stage D, but this is generally done during Stage A or Stage B so that a consistent approach to consultation is adopted and it is clear who the stakeholders to be consulted are. Consultation may be required:
  • during Stage B when the scope of the SEA is being decided
  • during Stage C after the environmental benefits and impacts have been assessed against the scoping document
  • as a discrete stage if the draft SEA (which may have been revised in response to comments made during Stage C) is to be made available for final public comment prior to the SEA being finalised and used to inform planning policy.
The fluidity of the process means that it can be adapted to assessment of a variety of planning policy initiatives.

What must a SEA address?

A SEA must address the scoping document prepared during Stage B-- developing alternatives and deciding scope (reg 13). In preparing the SEA, ACTPLA must, under regulation 14, assess the environmental benefits and impact of the proposal having regard to the following:
  • the probability, duration, frequency and reversibility of the effects of the proposal
  • the cumulative nature of the effects of the proposal, both positive and negative, and any identified alternatives to the proposal
  • whether the effects of the proposal are likely to extend outside the ACT
  • the risks to any identified environmental values identified in the scoping document or identified or targeted in relevant plans such as the TP, the ACT
Planning Strategy, and threatened species management plans
  • the magnitude and spatial extent of the effects of the proposal
  • the effects of the proposal on areas or landscapes that have a recognised local, regional or national protection status.
The SEA must also consider how the environmental impacts can be managed through mitigation, offsetting, avoidance or some other method (reg 14(b); see also reg 17).

Planning reports

A Planning Report (PR) is a report prepared to inform a decision under the Planning Act, for example to grant a lease or prepare a variation (other than a major variation) to the TP (s 97). ACTPLA must prepare a PR if directed by the minister, for example the minister may direct ACTPLA to prepare a PR for a draft TP variation (s 62) or prior to granting a lease (s 245). ACTPLA may otherwise prepare a PR if satisfied that it is necessary or convenient to do so in relation to a matter relevant to an object of the Planning Act (the orderly and sustainable development of the ACT, consistent with the social, environmental and economic aspirations of the people of the ACT and in accordance with sound financial principles) (ss 6, 98).

Whilst section 97 of the Planning Act provides that a regulation may prescribe what must be included in a PR, the Planning Regulation does not as yet contain any provisions relating to what a PR must address.

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