Application of Integrated Sustainability-based Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA): a Case Study of the Master Planning Process in Dalian, China
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Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) has gained increasing prominence as a means of accommodating the goals of sustainability in development planning since the 1990s. However, SEA faces considerable difficulties before it becomes a widely accepted and enduring practice. The concepts of SEA and sustainability are complex. SEA has necessarily to deal with a variety of planning and decision-making contexts, and in addition there is a problem of integrating SEA with planning. This combination of factors makes the future role of SEA in environmental planning highly challenging. Literature on sustainability, environmental assessment, and planning suggests that application of sustainability-led and context-dependent principles for SEA can assist in the realization of goals of sustainability. Meanwhile, the effective integration of SEA and planning processes can serve as a means by which sustainability objectives, urban planning practice and SEA application might be addressed. Central to this integration are institutional arrangements which define the extent to which SEA can promote sustainability. This research has been designed to explore the opportunities offered by SEA to provide the degree of strategic connectivity required to strengthen the position of sustainability concerns in the formulation of policies and planning. In particular, it defines the requisite principles and institutional conditions for using SEA as a tool for facilitating sustainability in the context of urban planning in Chinese cities. The research employs a primary case study design, and multiple data and analytical methods which have involved surveys, key informant interviews, secondary data and direct observation. SEA was introduced as part of the 2003 Chinese environmental impact assessment (EIA) law for use with government plans and programs at various levels. The incorporation of SEA into the master plan for city development in the city of Dalian was the first attempt at the use of SEA in any Chinese city and was designed to serve as a demonstration project for other cities to follow. However, the Dalian SEA case was not successful, highlighting the difficulty of facilitating sustainability goals and achieving integration with the planning process. The problems were complex but could be reduced to two major issues: lack of explicit guidelines or principles for the application of SEA, and fundamental institutional impediments. The research concluded that to increase the effectiveness of SEA application in China it is imperative to formulate a set of explicit and sustainability-based principles for SEA and reform the institutional arrangements for environmental assessment and planning, enabling the integration of SEA and planning processes.