Planning Advice Note 1/2010: strategic environmental assessment of development plans

Provides advice on how the requirements of the Environmental Assessment (Scotland) Act 2005 can be met within the development planning process.


4.1 Development plans are, by their nature, almost certain to be qualifying plans for the purpose of Directive 2001/42/ EC ('the SEA Directive') as transposed by Sections 1 and 5(3) of the 2005 Act. A SEA of the plan must therefore be carried out before it is adopted. Accordingly, a development plan that is considered likely to have significant environment effects does not require screening: the SEA should commence with scoping.

Key point: Care should be taken early on to ensure that key stages of the development plan process are supported by appropriate SEA outputs. 4.2 However, where the likelihood that a plan will have significant environmental effects is less clear, for example where it is considered to determine the use of small areas at local levels, or is a minor modification of a previous plan, screening by the Responsible Authority is required. Some supplementary guidance that has not already been assessed as part of the main body of the development plan, for example detailed development briefs, may fall into this category.

4.3 Consultation is a key statutory requirement under the 2005 Act. Consultation with the Consultation Authorities ( CAs) at screening and scoping stages has a statutory duration period of 28 days and five weeks respectively. Consultation at the environmental report stage is statutory and the consultation period must be agreed with the CAs at the scoping stage. The periods chosen must provide those with an interest an early and effective opportunity to express their opinion.

4.4 It is essential that the consultation takes place as required by the 2005 Act. A timing error spotted late in the SEA process could prove to be costly and difficult to correct, and could ultimately render the adopted plan unlawful.

4.5 Key milestones in the new development plan process, and the links between the plan and the SEA are shown in Figure 1. There are opportunities to overlap tasks at key stages. Development of stronger links between the collection of baseline environmental information, evaluation of options, consultation and monitoring requirements for both the development plan and the SEA can improve efficiency in the process. More detailed diagrams showing the fit between SEA and specific stages of the development planning process are provided in Circular 1/09 Development Planning. 2


Key point: Consultation is a statutory requirement. Link consultation on the SEA with consultation on the plan. 4.6 Planning authorities are required to prepare a development plan scheme, which includes a participation statement. This document includes the authority's plans for consultation, as well as details of when consultation is likely to take place, with whom, its likely form, and the steps to be taken to involve the public in the stages of plan preparation or review.

Figure 1 - Relationship between the Development Plan Process and SEA

Figure 1 - Relationship between the Development Plan Process and SEA

4.7 The SEA process is expressly intended to ensure that the CAs and the public have an early and effective opportunity to express their opinion on both the plan and the environmental report (see Section 16 of the 2005 Act). The planning authority may therefore wish to develop a combined plan and SEA consultation process at this early stage, ensuring of course that the statutory requirements of the 2005 Act are met. For example, where a planning authority intends to explore innovative ways of gaining early input from the public into the plan, then applying those methods to the SEA will also help gain input on the environmental assessment. Experience suggests that a wide approach to engagement helps the public to take a full part in the development planning and assessment processes.


Key point: Data collected during plan and SEA monitoring could be used for scoping.

4.8 The preparation of a monitoring statement for the development plan is a statutory requirement under the Planning etc. (Scotland) Act 2006. It must be published alongside the main issues report. The statement should examine the changes in the principal physical, economic, social and environmental characteristics of the area, and the impacts of the policies and proposals in the plan as a whole. It should consider the wider impact of the existing plan on the plan area and identify how far the objectives and vision of the existing plan have been realised.This should inform the content of the main issues report.

Key point: Start scoping early. 4.9 Overlaps between the data collected for the monitoring statement and the SEA are anticipated, and awareness of this within work programming should help to reduce unnecessary duplication of effort. This could include environmental baseline information and identification of key environmental problems and/or issues. Ideally, when the monitoring statement is being prepared, the SEA scoping should be well underway and monitoring information should be fed into the scoping process.


Key point: The main issues report is the opportunity for the SEA to assess and report on the environmental effects of alternative development scenarios. 4.10 The main issues report is central to the Scottish Government's aspirations for a modern development planning regime. It aims to stimulate genuine debate on the proposed approach and its alternatives, and front-load the system to avoid delays later. The main issues report will be the focus for the SEA, allowing for full exploration of the proposals and alternatives at an early stage. The environmental report must therefore be published alongside the main issues report, although it may need to be revised and re-published at later stages, to take account of any material changes in the plan, as shown in Figure 1.

4.11 The following paragraphs set out the Scottish Government's expectations for the content of main issues reports prepared for SDPs, LDPs within city regions, and LDPs outwith city regions, and explain how these should be assessed in the SEA.

Vision Statements ( SDPs; LDPs outwith city regions)

4.12 Although this is a legal requirement for inclusion in the proposed plan, rather than the main issues report, it is expected that it would be good practice for the main issues report to set out the intended vision for the plan area. The overarching vision for the area may have been set elsewhere in wider corporate statements, so the main issues report should consider and interpret this spatially, e.g. planning for growth, planning for stability and protection, planning for regeneration. An alternative to the vision is not necessarily required.

4.13 The SEA should assess the vision in broad terms, and consider any reasonable alternatives from a purely environmental perspective. This could include questioning whether a vision focused primarily on economic development has considered its environmental effects, or exploring whether a different balance can be struck within a draft vision, to better reflect environmental sensitivity within the plan area.

Spatial strategy ( SDPs; LDPs within city regions; LDPs outwith city regions)

4.14 Planning authorities are required to set out general proposals for development in the area, and reasonable alternatives to them, in the main issues report. This will inform the final choice of spatial strategy in the proposed plan. The alternatives must be reasonable, and in some cases this may mean that there are no genuine alternatives. It is expected that the spatial strategies will include the following information:

  • SDPs: high-level spatial strategy including key development areas but not necessarily specific sites. For example, it could explore the scale of new development and general direction of growth, plus reasonable alternatives to it, e.g. growth in the west of the plan area as a whole, rather than the north. This should focus on the key issues and be suitably strategic without getting into too much detail. This is particularly important for elements of the spatial strategy which will be interpreted by site-specific proposals at LDP level.
  • LDPs outwith city regions: high-level spatial strategy (as explained for SDPs above) and site-specific proposals.
  • LDPs within city regions: site-specific proposals.

4.15 The SEA would assess high-level and significant effects of the spatial strategy from an area-wide perspective, looking at the impact of different spatial options on the area's key environmental features. Site-specific elements of the development plan and assessment are addressed in paragraphs 4.20 - 4.22.

Policies ( SDPs; LDPs within city regions; LDPs outwith city regions)

4.16 It is not expected that the main issues report will include the wording of all the policies that are likely to appear later in the proposed plan. Instead, it should:

  • Identify the new or changed issues that require a policy response.
  • Explain the proposed changes to policies or policy areas, without necessarily setting out their detailed wording.
  • Briefly explain which policies or policy areas are rolling forward unchanged and why, without listing all of the policies in full (as these can been seen in the current adopted plan). This allows parties to comment on continuing policies, for example, to make the case that a policy or policy area should in fact be changed.
  • Explore the reasonable alternatives to the policies that have been considered during the plan preparation process.
  • Discuss topics that may be suitable for supplementary guidance that may follow, for example, asking consultees to comment on whether the detailed requirements for the design and layout of housing allocations at a specified area should be set out in supplementary guidance.

4.17 While most significant environmental effects will come from the spatial strategy and proposals, the SEA may also need to assess the effects of some policies. If other parts of the plan are predicted to have environmental effects, the SEA could usefully explore the extent to which a policy might help to mitigate them.

4.18 Where policies are rolling forward without change, the SEA could include a simple screening exercise to assess their effects, and go on to explore any potential significant effects in more detail. It could also identify cumulative effects of the plan as a whole by collectively assessing the effects of policies which are not changing.

4.19 If significant effects are assessed at main issues report stage to an appropriate level of detail, there may be no need for further SEA of supplementary guidance. This will require further consideration as detailed in paragraphs 4.50 to 4.55.

Proposals ( LDPs within city regions; LDPs outwith city regions)

4.20 The Planning etc. (Scotland) Act 2006 requires planning authorities to set out proposals for where development should and should not occur within LDPs. Proposals should be site-specific, clearly set out on a map base showing the location and intended use of proposed sites. Depending on the area, authorities could make a judgement not to include very small sites in the main issues report and hence the assessment, bearing in mind that the cumulative environmental effect of a number of small allocations could be significant. It is important that authorities get across the message that this is the time for developers and others to put forward suggestions for sites, so that they can be properly assessed in the context of the wider spatial strategy. Therefore, where sites are to be included, it is expected that the main issues report would outline all possible development sites (the preferred sites plus all the reasonable alternatives to them) which have emerged from survey work and / or developer bids.

4.21 The SEA should assess the significant environmental effects of all the sites. For SEA purposes, a comprehensive approach will help to avoid further assessment and delay at a later stage. If all of the sites are being evaluated in a systematic way to define whether they should be included in the plan, and that assessment fully assesses their environmental effects (i.e. covers the topics that are highlighted in the Directive), then there should be no need to duplicate this with a separate additional environmental assessment (see paragraph 5.9 below). The assessment findings will still need to be set out in the environmental report.

4.22 To structure and streamline this part of the assessment, there may be opportunities to combine or group sites, to provide a settlement or area-wide perspective on their likely significant environmental effects. This could improve the conciseness of the environmental report, and better inform the strategy within the plan as a whole, although it will be important to avoid inadvertently eliminating good sites that lie within a poorly performing group. Sites which already have development consent should be viewed as part of the baseline, but taken into account within the assessment of cumulative effects. Otherwise, sites which are being 'rolled forward' from previous plans should be included in the assessment.

General principles

4.23 The main issues report should identify not only what reasonable alternatives are available, but also the preferred option. It is nevertheless essential that options are left sufficiently open at this stage to allow the public to have full and meaningful participation in the SEA process. The SEA should highlight the likely significant environmental effects of the alternatives and this information should be taken into account in the selection of the preferred option.

Key point: Be succinct.
Think carefully about the information that needs to be in the environmental report.
Use Schedule 3 of the 2005 Act to check the environmental report for compliance, but also to identify where superfluous information can be removed.
Use summaries and appendices wisely.

4.24 The SEA environmental report has to be published for consultation alongside the main issues report. The environmental report needs to contain the results of the assessment of the preferred option and the reasonable alternatives to it. The contents of the report must comply with Schedule 3 of the 2005 Act.

4.25 The environmental report should not just be a compilation of all of the work undertaken within the SEA. This approach can make the report too long, impenetrable and result in loss of definition. Instead, the environmental report should take a step back from the assessment to provide a clear and succinct insight into the process and its key outcomes. For example, matrices may be used to undertake the assessment but the results could be reported using a narrative approach. Any reader should be able to identify the significant environmental effects of the plan by making quick reference to its environmental report. Further advice on proportionate scoping and assessment to help achieve this is provided in Section 5.

4.26 Plan preparation and SEA should be integrated. Undertaking the main part of the environmental assessment when the main issues report is being prepared will allow the early identification of significant adverse effects resulting from the preferred option and facilitate mitigation. This could include recommending changes to the preferred option as it emerges or identification and assessment of alternatives.

4.27 Where changes to the preferred option have been made during the preparation of the main issues report as a result of the SEA, this should be highlighted in the environmental report. In some instances the environmental report may recommend the best environmental option to be taken forward in the proposed plan. Choices that are made in response to the assessment findings should be recorded as the SEA progresses to help provide an audit trail and facilitate production of the post-adoption SEA statement at a later stage. However, these do not need to be detailed in full - a summary can suffice.

Working with alternatives at the main issues report stage

Key point: Exploring all reasonable alternatives at the main issues report stage can reduce the need to revisit the environmental report at a later stage and help to streamline the plan making process. 4.28 The main issues report is the key driver for the generation of reasonable alternatives, rather than the SEA. Alternatives need only be assessed within the main issues report and the SEA if they are reasonable alternatives. The starting point for deciding on possible reasonable alternatives should be the objectives and geographical scope of the plan. For example, an alternative that is not within the scope of the higher-level policy with which the plan itself has to accord is unlikely to be 'reasonable.' A reasonable alternative will be realistic, deliverable, consistent with other aspects of the plan (e.g. the high-level spatial strategy), and consistent with higher-level plans and policies such as the National Planning Framework and the Scottish Planning Policy. It is advisable to record the criteria which have been applied to identify reasonable alternatives during the assessment.

Key point: Reasonable alternatives are those which have been seriously considered as part of the plan making process. 4.29 It is not acceptable to artificially generate more environmentally damaging alternatives within the assessment to try to gain support for the preferred option. The 'business as usual' or 'do nothing scenario' need only be assessed if they are considered reasonable having regard to the objectives and scope of the plan.

4.30 A well-executed SEA provides an opportunity to explore planning options in a more rigorous and imaginative way than may have been achievable previously. SEA can help to stimulate creative thinking in spatial terms, adding value to the planning process. For example, the varying environmental consequences of progressing different locational strategies or making specific land allocations could be explored within the assessment framework that SEA provides. Different responses to key challenges for the plan, such as meeting renewable energy targets or accommodating housing growth in a sustainable way, can also be tested and informed by relevant environmental information that is compiled during the SEA. Put simply, the SEA can help to avoid inappropriate development in particularly environmentally sensitive areas, steering growth towards locations where there is more capacity.

Key point: Site-specific options should generally be assessed within SEAs of LDPs. 4.31 Alternatives can be identified and tested for a range of different components of the plan, to different levels of detail. A robust approach will include a thorough examination of all reasonable alternatives. However, an unnecessary proliferation of alternatives should nevertheless be avoided where possible, in the interests of transparency and conciseness.

Key point: Use the SEA at the main issues report stage to help eliminate options which are not feasible as a result of environmental 'showstoppers'. 4.32 At the main issues report stage it could also be useful to undertake a high-level comparative assessment or sifting of the plan options to identify the sites or locations that raise particularly significant environmental issues. Although the evaluation exercise in the SEA will inevitably focus on the effects of the plan on the environment, this work should ultimately aim to inform choices about the plan's content. This is a basic point but one which can easily be overlooked when practitioners are primarily focused on the legislative requirements of the SEA process and its prescribed outputs, and lose sight of the actual outcomes from the plan. However, the main purpose of the SEA is to provide information on the environmental effects of plan options, and it cannot be expected to decide which one is ultimately adopted into the plan.

Key point: The environmental report should be recognised as a consultation tool, but not be the only means of involving the public in the SEA. CONSULTATION

4.33 The environmental report on the main issues report may be the first time that the general public has sight of any outputs from the SEA. A non-technical summary is mandatory, and good practice has shown that producing summaries in different formats, using simple language and being fully aware of the range of stakeholders who are expected to read them, can make them more user-friendly.


4.34 Following consultation on the main issues report and SEA, responses are taken into account and the proposed plan can be prepared. The comments received on the SEA should be recorded and responses noted. This will provide a helpful point of reference during preparation of the post-adoption SEA statement (paragraph 4.46).

4.35 If the proposed plan contains new material that was not previously assessed and consulted upon in the main issues report (at least as options), this must be given careful consideration for SEA purposes, prior to finalising the proposed plan.

4.36 A planning authority has to judge for itself the significance of the new material in the context of the whole plan, and whether the likely environmental effect (including the effect of reasonable alternatives) has been properly assessed. It is important to note that a failure to properly assess new material in the context of the plan may lead to the plan, or policies that form part of the plan, being ruled unlawful by the courts.

Key point: Revision of the environmental report is not automatically required. 4.37 If the new material in the proposed plan is not expected to have significant environmental effects, then it is likely to be safe to include it in the adopted plan, and note the change in a concise update to the environmental report. This is not, however, a stated requirement of the legislation and no additional public consultation on the environmental effects of minor changes would be required by the 2005 Act. In such cases, it is acceptable to proceed directly to the post-adoption SEA statement stage.

4.38 New material that could have a significant environmental effect is likely to include the introduction of any new proposals or sites, or major changes to the policies analysed in the main issues report, that were not covered in earlier iterations of the environmental report.

Key point: Consultation on a revised environmental report at the proposed plan stage needs to extend beyond the provisions of the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997, as amended, to meet the requirements of the 2005 Act. 4.39 If the 'significant' new material and its environmental effects have not previously been explicitly assessed and consulted upon, then the environmental report will need to be updated and an additional consultation undertaken. To maximise transparency, reduce duplication of earlier work and help consultees understand the outputs better, it is recommended that this supplementary assessment is presented as an annex to the environmental report (as opposed to a redraft of the report as a whole). This reduces the time required to edit the original report and can help consultees to identify the additional findings without having to trace changes back to the original environmental report.

4.40 One way to avoid this scenario and associated delays is by undertaking a thorough scoping exercise and front-loading the assessment and plan preparation at the main issues report stage, to ensure that all the reasonable alternatives are identified and assessed in the process. This should minimise the potential for late changes to arise.

4.41 The revised or supplemented environmental report should be publicly consulted on at the same time as the proposed plan. As noted in Figure 1, the consultation on the environmental report will need to go beyond simply inviting representations on the plan and allow for broader comments, in order to meet the requirements of the 2005 Act. The views expressed by consultees at this stage must be taken into account by the planning authority before the plan is adopted. There may be more than one way in which to show, if challenged, that this requirement (Section 17, 2005 Act) has been met. It could, for example, either be taken into account through modifications to the proposed plan, or could be considered during the course of the Examination and taken into account as appropriate. As the environmental report is not a part of the proposed plan, any comments on the revised environmental report at this stage should be made in the form of representations on the plan itself, to allow the appointed person (e.g. a Reporter) to take them into consideration during the Examination.


4.42 The action programme for the proposed plan is not expected to trigger the need for a further SEA, as it implements the content of the plan which has already been assessed. Instead, action programmes can play an important role in ensuring that any mitigation or monitoring proposals from the SEA are delivered alongside the plan.


Key point: Late changes to the plan may trigger a need for further environmental assessment and consultation, generating delays.
This underlines the importance of comprehensive evaluation of all reasonable alternatives at the main issues report stage.
4.43 The new planning system aims to front-load the process as far as possible, and full consideration of reasonable alternatives at the main issues report stage should reduce the need to re-open the SEA at a later stage. However, if representations on the proposed plan include new sites or approaches 3 that have not been previously assessed, it may prove helpful if those who are bringing proposals forward could provide the planning authority with environmental information on the proposal and its wider context. This could include a brief summary of the relevant aspects of the baseline environment and a simple summary or screening of the likely significant environmental effects of the proposal on its own, and when considered in relation to the rest of the plan. Whilst the planning authority would have to check this information for consistency with its own findings, this could facilitate a swift and accurate assessment of the proposed changes and amendment of the environmental report should the representation be supported in the examination report. This cannot be considered a statutory requirement, given that responsibility for the SEA lies with the planning authority but, where appropriate, may allow late proposals to be assessed alongside the options considered by the planning authority earlier in the process. If they were not included as options in the environmental report, the sites and the additional environmental information could require an additional consultation period if they are to be brought into the plan.

4.44 The examination of the plan may result in recommendations to modify the plan. Modifications that have not previously been considered in SEA (e.g. an option that was rejected prior to the main issues report) will need to be reviewed for their environmental implications. Potentially significant environmental effects would have to be assessed and the findings presented as an annex to the environmental report, which would then trigger an additional period of consultation on the modifications and the environmental report. The planning authority will undertake any further assessment in the case of LDPs (as provided for by Section 19(11) of the Planning etc. (Scotland) Act 2006), whilst the Scottish Government would become the responsible authority for any proposed modifications to SDPs.

4.45 Fundamental changes at this stage have the potential to result in significant delays. This underlines the importance of including a comprehensive assessment of all reasonable alternatives at the main issues report stage. Section 19(11) of the Planning etc. (Scotland) Act 2006 allows planning authorities not to accept modifications to LDPs that have been recommended in an examination report, where these are not acceptable with regard to SEA.


4.46 Section 18(2) of the 2005 Act requires a post-adoption SEA statement to be prepared 'as soon as reasonably practicable' following adoption of the plan. The Act requires the SEA statement to set out how the findings in the environmental report and the associated consultation responses were taken into account during the preparation of the plan, before the final decision was taken to adopt it. It should explain any changes that have been made to the SDP or LDP as a result of the SEA, and the reasons for choosing the plan as adopted, in the light of other reasonable alternatives considered. It should also provide consultees with a final opportunity to comment informally on arrangements for monitoring. The statement need not be long or overly detailed.


Key point: SEA monitoring can be integrated with plan monitoring. 4.47 To meet the requirements of Section 19 of the 2005 Act, monitoring must be undertaken:

  • to identify significant environmental effects arising from implementation of the development plan; and
  • to identify any unforeseen environmental effects, in order to allow remedial action to be taken where required.

Key point: There is no need to undertake separate monitoring for the development plan and its SEA. 4.48 Monitoring will also enable the planning authority to gauge the effectiveness of any mitigation measures employed, and to manage any uncertainty about the plan's environmental effects. Monitoring should therefore focus on the significant environmental effects of the development plan. It can make use of appropriate indicators that are linked to the SEA baseline and may also focus on the identified environmental problems within the plan area.

4.49 There is potential for overlap between the monitoring carried out for the SEA and the broader monitoring undertaken for the development plan. In the interests of efficiency, the planning authority may take the opportunity to integrate these monitoring requirements. Issues could be reported in the monitoring statement and used to directly inform the preparation of the next development plan and its SEA.


4.50 The Town and Country Planning (Development Planning) (Scotland) Regulations 2008 state that the topics for supplementary guidance must be anchored within the content of the plan itself 4 and be limited to the provision of further information or detail in respect of policies or proposals in the LDP or SDP.

4.51 If supplementary guidance is available at the time of the first formal preparatory act, or becomes available before the plan is adopted then, for the purposes of SEA, it should be treated as an integral part of the plan and assessed accordingly.

4.52 If it is proposed to adopt supplementary guidance after the 'parent' plan is adopted, then the guidance is itself a plan under Section 5(3) of the 2005 Act for SEA purposes.

4.53 In most cases the parent plan will have been subject to a SEA. It is likely that the guidance will also need an assessment, and the next step is to proceed directly to scoping. It is however possible that some guidance can be exempted through screening:

  • Supplementary guidance in some circumstances may be no more than a minor modification to the parent plan, and so exempted if it is not likely to have a significant environmental effect.
  • Supplementary guidance may relate to a small area at a local level and so exempted as above.

4.54 If screening out for these reasons is not feasible, it is sensible to anticipate the likely scope and content of supplementary guidance when the parent plan is being prepared, both in the plan and in the environmental assessment. If the environmental impact of the guidance has been assessed in that context, and the guidance is in fact as anticipated, then it is possible that it can be screened out on the grounds of duplication.

4.55 If required, a new SEA could use the original assessment as a starting point, and not duplicate the information that has already been gathered. Findings can be presented as an annex to an existing environmental report, to allow for cross referencing and to reduce the need for further reporting. In such cases, it is important to note that the amended environmental report would need to be republished in full as a single package for consultation alongside the draft supplementary guidance, to be fully compliant with Schedule 3 of the 2005 Act.


4.56 Other guidance which is more tenuously linked with the plan and which should not therefore be termed 'supplementary guidance' 5 , may fall under Section 5(4) of the 2005 Act. If so, it might be exempted through pre-screening or may need to be screened. Further information is provided in Section 4 (Figure 4.1) of the SEA Tool Kit.


Email: Central Enquiries Unit

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