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The study focused primarily on assessing the benefits of the SDI to the organisations outside public administration, that is, developers and consultants involved in planning, design, and impact assessment. The authors report the results of two surveys undertaken in 2009. The first addressed consultants involved in the preparation of environmental impact assessments and strategic environmental assessments and found significant economic and policy benefits resulting from the use of the regional SDI. The second survey focused on professionals involved in planning and design (architects, engineers, planners) and found a much more varied landscape characterised by lack of awareness and skill in taking advantage of the new infrastructure of analytical tools. The results of this study demonstrate that the maturity reached by some of the existing SDIs now makes it possible to evaluate tangible benefits, and act as an incentive to analyse further how SDIs are producing positive externalities. The knowledge gained by monitoring the impacts of on-going SDI initiatives can be used to justify investments ex post and inform further SDI development and wider positive impacts.
The study shows that in its first three years of operation, the Lombardy SDI has generated quantifiable economic benefits, which already far exceed the investments made, as well as producing important qualitative benefits.
In addition to the tangible economic benefits, which in the first instance justify investments, intangible benefits may produce even higher positive impacts on the social and environmental system: in the case of EIA users declare they are able to produce more accurate impact analyses, and have an improved dialogue with the regulatory authorities thanks to the availability of a common geographic knowledge base.
The direct costs for the establishment and operation of the SDI in 2006–08 have been EUR 4.1 million for technology development and maintenance, or approximately EUR 1.4 million per annum. These investments do not include regional co-funding for topographic database production.
Against these investments, the data gathered through two surveys of practitioners operating in the fields of EIA and SEA reports and spatial planning are coherent in indicating 11–12% of cost savings in the exercise of the technical practice, as well as 17–19% of time savings thanks to the open access to the regional SDI data and services. Prudential estimates based on these data allow us to quantify average economic saving on costs for EIA as EUR 3 million per annum, which is significantly greater than the documented investments. Moreover, benefits accrued in the preparation of SEA reports and in spatial planning practice would be additional to those estimated for the EIA practice.