Guidance for Relevant Authorities

An appropriate assessment needs to be undertaken in respect of any plan or project which:

• Either alone or in combination with other plans or projects would be likely to have a significant effect on a European Site;
• Is not directly connected with the management of the site for nature conservation.

(See Appendix VI of the Regulation 33 package for further information.)

A guide against which relevant authorities (RAs) can initiate an assessment of the ‘significance' of any plans or projects (and ongoing operations or activities) proposed for the site is provided in Tables 3 & 4 of the Regulation 33 package.

This does not remove the need for RAs to formally consult English Nature over individual plans and projects where required under the Regulations.

The following document shows the considerations as part of a flow chart (PDF format).

Supplementary guidance on applying for consent to carry out an activity in or near SWMEMS.

When to submit an application
Applicants should normally discuss any plan or project with the competent authority at the earliest possible stage, and well prior to the submission of the application, where their plan or project is in, near to or could potentially affect the SWMEMS.

The competent authority, English Nature, and the applicant if necessary, will discuss and identify possible effects of the plan or project. If the competent authority confirms a significant effect on the European site, they will have to undertake an ‘appropriate assessment'. They will require the applicant to supply sufficient information as to allow them to determine if the plan or project could threaten the integrity of the European site. Such information will include direct and indirect impacts of the plan or project including impacts of its construction and operation, if appropriate.

If an application is submitted with inadequate information to enable the competent authority to carry out the appropriate assessment, then delay in processing the application is almost inevitable.

Indirect effects
Applicants should be aware that indirect effects of the plan or project on a European site are a material consideration. It should be emphasised that operations outside the site boundary may also have indirect effects. Such effects will vary between applications, but may impact on parts of the sites quite remote from the application area, for example through changes to water quantity or quality.

In combination effects
It is a clear objective of the Habitats Directive to prevent “in combination” effects such as incremental damage to European sites as a result of several developments, the effects of which individually are inconsequential, but when combined, do amount to a level of damage that threatens the integrity of the sites.

In combination effects may be difficult to quantify in reality. However, a precautionary approach might suggest that the individual effects of a scheme should be set to such a low level or threshold that the theoretical combination of similar effects across a number of plans or projects would still not amount to a level that would threaten site integrity.

The implementation of the Habitats Directive via the Habitats Regulations in the UK is relatively new and untested legislation. Government advice is provided in Planning Policy Guidance no.9 with subsequent advice notes, and English Nature has issued several guidance notes. At a local level, English Nature and the Isle of Wight Council can also provide advice.