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This is the main new contribution of the law of 13 February 2006 (.PDF): a report on the environmental effects of the draft plan or programme must be compiled. This report is compiled by the authority preparing the plan, but it may subcontract the work externally, provided the private person concerned has no personal interest in the implementation of the plan in question.

Before performing the analysis of the environmental effects, the compiler draws up a summary of the information which will be included in the environmental report. To do this, the compiler decides on a list of information that it considers should appear in the report, on the basis in particular of Annex II of the law. These draft contents are then sent to the Advisory committee (.HTML), which will assess whether this information is relevant to the draft plan or programme, especially in terms of the extent and detail of the information required. You will find a diagram illustrating the SEA Procedure (.PDF).

Once this first stage has been completed, the compiler can start to work on the actual report and assess the environmental effects.

Every report will have its individual characteristics. A report on radioactive waste will not contain the same data as one on an economic activity in the North Sea. However, a number of documents define the report’s structure:

- a table of contents,
- a description of the objectives of the plan or programme,
- relevant aspects of the environmental situation (and how it is likely to develop if no action is taken),
- the environmental characteristics of the affected areas,
- environmental problems associated with the plan or programme,
- environmental protection objectives which are relevant to the plan/programme and how they have been taken into account in the preparation of the project,
- likely non-negligible effects,
- measures planned to avoid, reduce or compensate for them,
- a declaration which summarises the reasons why the planned solutions have been selected and a description of how the assessment has been performed,
- a description of the planned follow-up measures,
- and finally, a non-technical summary of all the above information!

As this sizeable list suggests, the report gives details of the environmental situation in the areas likely to be affected, looks ahead at the changes or problems which the plan would entail and finally attempts to eliminate or reduce them.

Likely non-negligible effects

Despite their precision, the legislative tools cannot stipulate and define everything. ‘Non-negligible’ and ‘likely’ effects are among those terms which are open to interpretation.

In order to apply European Directive 2001/42/EC (.PDF) as objectively as possible, suggested explanations have been put forward. Thus, according to a document entitled ‘Implementation of Directive 2001/42 on the assessment of the effects of certain plans and programmes on the environment’: ‘The prediction of likely environmental effects is complex, especially in the context of relatively broad-brush, or high level plans or programmes, where it may be difficult to anticipate the outcomes of implementation at the time a plan or programme is adopted. The use of the term ‘likely’ suggests that the environmental effects to be considered are those which can be expected with a reasonable degree of probability’. Moreover, ‘many uncertainties exist, and insufficient or missing data and inadequate knowledge may make it difficult to decide whether significant effects are likely. Nevertheless, it is assumed that a rough estimation of the effects should always be possible’.

To offer an objective basis for this elusive term despite the difficulties, Relevant sectors (HTML) have been defined to take account as closely as possible of the likely extent of the effects of plans or programmes.

The law of 13 February 2006 (.PDF) also specifies themes where the concept of likely non-negligible effects would assume its full meaning: biodiversity, population, human health, flora, fauna, soil, water, air, climatic factors, material goods, the cultural heritage, including the architectural and archaeological heritage, landscapes and the interactions between these factors.