C7.3.1 Limitations of SEA


The limitations of SEA include:

  • They generally cover a large area (sometimes several countries) and a large number of alternatives. This makes collecting and analysing data for SEAs very complex.
  • SEAs are subject to levels of uncertainty, in terms of future environmental, economic and social conditions, likely development and likely future technologies.
  • Limited information. In addition, environmental data collected in different countries are often incompatible or limited.
  • SEAs have to deal with information at a different level from project EIAs. A national-level SEA needs to focus on national -level concerns, and may therefore have to disregard impacts that are important at a local level, but that do not influence a national-level decision.
  • There may be issues of confidentiality.
  • Decision-makers may also be concerned that SEA should not take over the process of decision-making.
  • SEA is also inherently a political process. The concept of SEA, particularly sustainability-led SEA, is not yet politically accepted. Many countries’ traditional approaches to policy-making, the worldwide emphasis on economic well-being (e.g. GNP) rather than total quality of life, and the sheer effort involved in determining sustainability criteria/targets all frustrate this concept.
  • There is a relative lack of case studies and experience of SEA.
  • SEA takes time and resources. For instance, the Draft Guidance Note on SEA (ODPM 2004) estimates that SEA could take 50 to 100 person-days to prepare. There are concerns about the extra burden this could place on already stretched local government resources.
  • SEA has to deal with uncertainties from a local up to global level, which may occur throughout the course of the strategic action (often taking years), e.g. floods, technical changes. SEA needs to be responsive, adaptable and quick, so potentially not being as detailed and scientific as one might like.
  • SEA only provides one input into decision-making. Quite often the decision will be made for reasons that are unconnected to environmental/sustainability principles.
  • SEA does not take into account problems with multiple causations as can be found in urban distressed areas. Social and economic aspects are neglected.
  • SEA relies on various quantitative data that cannot necessarily be provided for the area within the boundary of a distressed urban area.