Monitoring of Policies, Indicators and Targets

The Purposes of Monitoring

These are:

  • to assess the performance of the plan’s policies, to see if the policies have been adhered to and the outcomes achieved, if policies are working, whether objectives are being met and whether the scope of the plan’s policies is still relevant and adequate;
  • to assess the performance of the plan’s proposals, to check whether the effects of the Plan’s proposals were as predicted in the SEA / Sustainability Appraisal / Habitats Regulations Assessment;
  • to keep track of change in the environment and of human responses to environmental changes relevant to the plan; and
  • to provide better information, by reducing uncertainty and increasing accuracy and objectivity in future plan appraisals and policy development.

To be most effective, monitoring should be based explicitly on specific indicators and targets.

Ideally, the effectiveness of the plan's policies and proposals should be monitored in combination with other environmental, social and economic monitoring, in an integrated way. It is the cumulative effects of change in the area that should be the principal object of monitoring.

It is unlikely to be either feasible (from a resource point of view) or necessary to monitor all aspects of a plan, there would be little advantage in monitoring issues which would not be likely to lead to significant changes when the plan is next reviewed. Biodiversity monitoring should be focused on:

  • Reducing uncertainty;
  • Measuring the success of policies in helping to meet biodiversity objectives;
  • Eliminating unsustainable forms of development; and
  • Sustaining irreplaceable natural assets that if lost can never be replaced or recreated.

This means that the most useful aspects to monitor will be those where the SEA / Sustainability Appraisal / Habitats Regulations Assessment indicated either adverse or uncertain effects on biodiversity.

Identifying Indicators

Indicators may be measures of:

  • the state of the biodiversity resource; or
  • pressures on the biodiversity resource; or
  • change in the biodiversity resource in response to pressures.

Indicators need not be absolute measures of these conditions but should reflect directions of desirable or undesirable change. Targets, limits or thresholds should be set in relation to each indicator, which would act as “warning lights” indicating whether decisions or changes are moving towards or away from sustainable development. Indicators should directly reflect the biodiversity related tests used in the Sustainability Appraisal.

Targets may need to be programmed or phased over specific time periods within or even beyond the plan period, in order to remain realistic.

The following checklist provides a useful test for the efficacy of indicators. It is drawn from ‘Environmental Quality in Spatial Planning’ Supplementary File (File No 12). Indicators selected to measure progress towards achieving specific objectives, or to test specific parts or aspects of a plan, should meet the following criteria:

The indicator should be about something measurable, and the information it is calculated from should be readily available at reasonable cost.

An indicator should be meaningful, it should measure or represent something believed to be important or significant in its own right.

The indicator should be understandable to the public.

There should only be a short time-lag between change occurring and the indicator identifying the change.

  • The indicator should be based on information which can be used to compare different geographical areas both inside and outside the plan area.
  • The availability of the indicator information should be reliable over the whole plan period, the information should be manageable with analysis capable of drawing conclusions about the significance of changes, and although judgements are inevitable, they should be as objective as possible.
  • The indicator should be relevant and appropriate to the scale and purpose of the plan.
  • Indicators should concentrate monitoring on objectives, policies or proposals the effects of which are uncertain, and on the inter-relationships between objectives, policies and proposals which may potentially conflict.
  • Indicators should draw on existing best practice and high level indicators where relevant. They should not be chosen for ease of measurement, but rather because of the scale of benefit and potential improvements.

CLG guidance on Local Development Framework (LDF) monitoring proposes three types of indicator for inclusion in Annual Monitoring Reports (AMRs):

  • Contextual indicators which describe the wider social, environmental and economic background against which LDF policy operates;
  • Output indicators which are used to assess the performance of policies, there are two types of output indicator:
    • Core output indicators which must be monitored by all LPAs and provide a consistent data source
    • Local output indicators which should address the outputs of policies not covered by the core output indicators
  • Significant effects indicators which are used to assess the significant social, environmental and economic effects of policies and should be derived from Sustainability Appraisal findings.


Ideally, in addition to using indicators required for higher level monitoring, planning authorities are encouraged to develop their own indicators, with local relevance, for monitoring the effectiveness of specific plans.

Targets

Targets may be set so that monitoring can check to see whether they have been met or missed, and why. Targets should be demanding and worthwhile, clearly beneficial and meaningful, but they should also be feasible and realistic. Nothing is gained by setting targets that can never be achieved, because they are out of reach, or that are too easily reached. However, not every indicator needs to have a specific target. Sometimes there are important indicators of trends and directions, which do not necessarily have specific stages or measurements, but nevertheless clearly point out the direction of change.