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Guidance on Strategic Environmental Assessment of Neighbourhood Plans

To protect the environment and make sure that environmental considerations are taken into account Strategic Environmental Assessments (SEA) are required for all government local plans and programmes which are likely to have significant environmental effects (European Directive 2001/42/EC). This includes the SDNPA’s Local Plan and Neighbourhood Plans.

Further information on this directive can be found on the EUR-Lex Website. Annex II can be used to determine whether your Neighbourhood Plan gives rise to significant environmental effects.

Sustainability Appraisals (SA) follow the SEA Directive but consider the environmental, social and economic consequences of a plan and its policies, trying to achieve a balance between them.

Do all Neighbourhood Plans need a Strategic Environmental Assessment?

The Department for Communities and Local Government state that:

In some limited circumstances, where a neighbourhood plan is likely to have significant environmental effects, it may require a strategic environmental assessment. Draft neighbourhood plan proposals should be assessed to determine whether the plan is likely to have significant environmental effects. This process is commonly referred to as a “screening” assessment and the requirements are set out in regulation 9 of the Environmental Assessment of Plans and Programmes Regulations 2004. If likely significant environmental effects are identified, an environmental report must be prepared in accordance with paragraphs (2) and (3) of regulation 12 of those Regulations. One of the basic conditions that will be tested by the independent examiner is whether the making of the neighbourhood plan is compatible with European Union obligations (including under the Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive).

See further Government guidance on the environmental assessment of neighbourhood plans.

Getting a Screening Opinion

The South Downs National Park Authority will be able to give you a screening opinion on whether your Neighbourhood Plan will need a Strategic Environmental Assessment.

Parishes are asked to provide the following information to make sure we have enough information to base this decision on and respond in a timely manner:

  1. What are the broad aspirations of the parish in terms of the development that they wish to plan? What is the scale of development spatially and numerically – how many houses?
  2. Do any elements of the plan trigger an EIA under the criteria listed in Schedule II of the Town and Country Planning Act (EIA) Regulations 1999? E.g. a community heating scheme or anaerobic digestion plant?
  3. Are these aspirations consistent with any existing Local Plan or Joint Core Strategy or do they diverge in any way? Has that Local Plan or Joint Core Strategy been subject to Sustainability Appraisal?
  4. What is the proximity of national and local level designations for both nature conservation and cultural heritage? If these can be mapped out to a ten mile radius or so this would be helpful.
  5. What are the key physical environmental issues currently affecting the neighbourhood? Are there issues such as flooding, contaminated land, sewage treatment, pollution.
  6. What are the key social issues? Is school / commuter traffic a key issue or shortage of affordable housing and how is the plan likely to address these issues?

In the course of making our decision, we will consult with the appropriate statutory advisers, i.e. Natural England, English Heritage and the Environment Agency.

If we decide that a SEA is appropriate we will advise on next steps you need to take.

Comprehensive information submitted in the request for a Screening Opinion, particularly in response to question 4, will also allow the SDNPA to advise on the requirement, if any, for a Habitats Regulations Assessment.