Assessments of potential environmental consequences are being a major concern of many states to be incorporated in policy, planning, and programmatic levels. The reasons behind the growth of interest in Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) are mainly focused on the limitations of project-level environmental assessment and requirements of assessment in strategic level (Lee and Walsh, 1992). Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) refers to a systematic process of analyzing environmental effects of policies, plans and programmes (Dalal-Clayton and Sadler, 2005). SEA is rising as an attempt of systematically assess environmental impacts of decisions made at strategic level. The requirement of SEA have been identified theoretically earlier, but practice is relatively recent and outlined to the mid 1980s. In recent times SEA is being used as an effective tool in the integration of environmental concerns in decision-making process along with the moving trend toward sustainability goals (Partidario, 1996). Although there are similarities between SEA and EIA and they share main objectives, one of the main differences in practical significance is SEA is applied at an earlier stage of planning process. To have a complete influence in decision making, SEA should be incorporated in various stages of the whole decision making process. The theory of SEA supports that there could be tiering of strategic actions, from policy to plan, to program and then finally to project but in practice stages are often skipped in most of the cases (Therivel, 2012). This paper will discuss about the context and opportunity of SEA in New Zealand. The extent to which SEA has become a central part of the decision making process in New Zealand will be explored along with identifying the gaps between SEA theory and practice.
SEA in New Zealand
The experience of Environmental Assessment (EA) could be traced in 1970s in New Zealand which was primarily focused on project level. Key principles and component of EA in strategic level has been first integrated in Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA) which is the key environmental legislation of the country. One main aim of RMA was to integrate aspects of EA and statutory planning process (Wilson and Ward, 2011). To date, there is no legal requirement or authorization for SEA in New Zealand and the term SEA could not be found in any legislation of this country. The acts refers to general obligations to consider potential environmental impacts of policy and plans which are being developed but it does not set down any specific process for SEA. Then the components of ES have been integrated subsequently in other environmental and planning laws of New Zealand like transport sector and local government legislation (McGimpsey and Morgan, 2013). RMA doesn’t require a separate assessment process of environmental issues, it aims of including environmental assessment issues as a part of policy making...