Uncharted Waters: Strategic Environmental Assessment in the UK Offshore Area

Richard Caddell, Nereus Fellow at Utrecht, has had his chapter “Uncharted Waters: Strategic Environmental Assessment in the UK Offshore Area” published in The Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive.

The Strategic Environmental Assessment DirectiveThis chapter is part of the first concerted survey of the EU legislation concerning strategic environmental assessment (SEA). SEA involves a series of environmental review processes to assess the projected impact of major developmental or infrastructure projects and allows decision-makers to consider the implications of pursuing such projects in a more coherent and integrated manner. Nevertheless, the legal requirements of SEA have been to date little explored, especially in a marine context.

This contribution is the first appraisal of the UK law and policy concerning planning processes for the offshore environment. In this way, this chapter reveals that the UK has developed an innovative and proactive system of management. The chapter considers that a strong culture of reflective practice in offshore SEA processes – which is not always replicated in the terrestrial context – has ensured that the procedure has been consistently refined to address weaknesses that have become apparent in previous SEAs.

The process has also helped to refine decision-making processes and has contributed to improved environmental management in these waters. Nevertheless, this chapter warns that insufficient account has been taken of cumulative impacts, especially concerning the pernicious effects of ocean noise, while problems also remain concerning data management and evaluating the implementation of the large volume of recommendations that have been made in respect of the process. The chapter considers that while the UK provides a globally-leading process of offshore SEA, further legal regulation of emerging industries such as fracking and carbon storage, as well as fisheries management (since the EU’s SEA requirements do not apply to fisheries beyond territorial waters) will also be necessary in order to ensure a coherent, precautionary and effective regulatory framework.