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Are we moving in the right direction? Indicators on transport and environmental integration in the EU: TERM 2000

SEA in the transport sector

Indicator 29: Implementation of strategic environmental assessment (SEA) in the transport sector


Although the transport sector is more advanced in developing SEA than other sectors, this instrument is still seldom used to assess and guide decisions on transport policies, plans or programmes.


Carry out SEA at EU, national, regional and local policy and planning levels.


  • Number of Member States with legislation or other formal provisions for mandatory SEA of certain transport policies, plans and programmes.
  • Number of Member States that put SEA in practice for certain transport plans or policies, either on a mandatory or a voluntary basis.

Policy and targets

Environmental impact assessment (EIA) is carried out routinely for large transport infrastructure projects (in accordance with national legislation and EU Directive 85/337). However, current practice shows that EIA has severe limitations. EIA is linked to the last step in the decision-making process – project authorisation – at which point it is often too late to consider more strategic alternatives such as modal and route choices. The effect of EIA is therefore mostly limited to adding certain (technological) mitigation measures to infrastructure design and implementation (e.g. noise screens, tunnels). Furthermore, project EIAs fail to account for cumulative effects (the combined effects of several transport projects).

Internationally, there is a growing consensus that SEA of national/regional/local transport (and related spatial) policies, plans and programmes is essential to ensure that environmental considerations are incorporated at all levels of decision-making (ECMT, 1998). SEA helps to ensure that the environmental consequences of policies, plans or programmes are identified before adoption, that feasible alternatives are properly considered and that the public and environmental authorities are fully involved in the decision-making process. SEA thus constitutes an important tool for integration, as has been recognised by the 5EAP, the Amsterdam Treaty and the Commission’s Communication on integration. The Proposal for a Directive on the environmental assessment of plans and programmes (CEC, 1996a; CEC, 1999d) also applies to certain sectoral plans (including the transport sector).

SEA is particularly useful in assisting decisions on a multi-modal approach. It helps to structure and focus environmental analysis on the key environmental benefits and costs of each transport mode, by comparing alternative planning and management options in an integrated way and providing decision-makers with the relevant information to take the most sustainable decision.

In 1992 the White Paper on the CTP stated that SEA would be carried out for all major infrastructure investment plans. The SEA for the multi-modal trans-European transport network (TEN) has been under discussion for several years. So far, the Commission has focused mainly on methodological work. In 1996, a SEA work programme for TEN was set up, following the provisions of the Community guidelines on TEN (which require that the Commission develops methods for the SEA of the whole TEN and for corridor assessments). In this context, the Commission has undertaken a pilot SEA of the whole multi-modal TEN, together with various transport corridor assessments (in cooperation with the Member States). In addition, a methodological handbook has been developed, which provides practical guidance for transport network and corridor SEAs (DHV, 1999). It is not yet clear whether and how the Commission and the Member States intend to put this experience into practice.

In its report to the Helsinki Council, the Transport Council invited the Commission to submit a report on the application of SEA of the TEN by 2001 (CEC, 1999). It also recommends Member States to conduct SEA for all major construction plans and programmes.


Four countries (Denmark, Finland, Italy and the Netherlands) have already anticipated EC legislation and have general requirements in place for SEA for policies, plans and programmes. SEA for the transport sector is mandatory in Denmark, Finland, France and Sweden.

Several examples of SEA practice in the transport sector have been identified (see Table 7.4). However, many are pilot or methodological studies which lack any link with actual decision-making. Most examples are for road programmes, because road transport and infrastructure has a dominant position in most transport systems. The German Federal infrastructure plan is one of the few cases in which a multi-modal assessment is made. In France, a multi-modal approach to SEA is used for assessing transport options for large corridors, and methods are being developed for assessing the national road and rail master plans (MinistÚre de l’amenagement du territoire et de l’environnement, 1999). In Sweden, development plans for railways and roads are separate, although covering the same time periods. This is also the case in many European countries and reflects that plans are produced by different sectoral authorities. This demonstrates the lack of coordination and consistency across modes which persists in many countries, and which hampers a multi-modal approach.

Future work

Creation of a repository of information on SEA in the transport sector should help to track progress and secure demand-driven data collection. This would allow monitoring of the process and provide a sound basis for developing and improving SEA practice.

Table 7.4: Uptake of SEA in the transport sector:
legal requirements and (mandatory or voluntary) applications

Member State

General legal SEA provisions

Legislation or other provisions which require SEA for transport

Examples of SEA application in transport sector (mandatory or voluntary)




Pilot SEA Danube TEN-corridor, ongoing



Brussels region



Flemish region

in preparation


High-speed rail routes Antwerp-Rotterdam, 1996

Walloon region





Government decree 1993/98

Separate Government decisions

Transport 2005

The Odense-Svendborg motorway project, extended into a transport corridor SEA rail/road 1998 (not mandatory)

The State Budget SEA 1998 (includes transport)



EIA Act (1994)

Government Decision

The Finnish part of the Nordic Triangle, 1996

SEA of the Road Administration 4-year action plan, various versions for each update since 1997

SEA of the HÀme Regional Road Administration long-range plan (being finalised) 1999

SEA of the National Road Administration long range plan (under preparation)-2000



Loi d’orientation relative à l’aménagement et au développement durable du territoire, in preparation

Circulaire of Ministry of Public Works, 15 November 1991

Intermodal proposals for the A7-A9 Route

Pilot SEA of Corridor Nord TEN, 1999

Transport structure plan




North Rhine-Westphalia Road programme

Federal transport infrastructure plan







Dublin Transportation Initiative


in preparation


High speed rail programme assessment






EIA decree


Second Transport Structure Plan


Mobility plan Randstad (SWB-notitie -Samen Werken aan Bereikbaarheid)

Structure scheme Civil aviation airports (in preparation)





yes (regional)


15-year multimodal National Transport Plan



Separate Government decisions

The StomnÀtsplan 1994-2003

The Gothenburg-Jönköping transport corridor pilot SEA 1998

National road transport system plan 1998

National rail transport system plan 1998

The Swedish National Communications Committee programme ‘New directions to transport policy’ (Ny kurs i trafikpolitiken) 1997

United Kingdom



Setting Forth: Strategic Assessment

Pilot SEA TEN trans-Pennine corridor

Source: adapted from EEA, 1999


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