What is A Habitat Regulations Assessment / Appropriate Assessment?
European legislation requires member states including the UK to designate a series of Special Protection Areas (SPAs) and Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) to protect areas supporting populations and habitats of importance within Europe. This network of European protected sites is widely referred to as the Natura 2000 Network. Any plan or project which could be considered to have a ‘likely significant effect’ on a Natura 2000 site (or potential or candidate site) requires a Habitats Regulations Assessment (HRA). A HRA typically comprises of the following stages:
- Define the development proposal.
- Establish the qualifying features of the Natura 2000 site(s) included within the assessment.
- Identify potential effects associated with the proposal on the site and the protected species within.
- Determine whether the proposal is directly connected with, or necessary to, site management for conservation.
- Assess whether the proposal will result in a likely significant effect (LSE) on the site, either individually or in combination with other plans or projects. This stage is often referred to as ‘screening’. Caselaw states that a plan or project is likely to have a significant effect where “it cannot be excluded on the basis of objective information that the plan or project will have significant effects on the sites concerned”.
- Make an Appropriate Assessment (AA) of the implications (of the proposal) for the site in view of that site’s conservation objectives. At this stage the assessment is required to ascertain whether there would be Adverse Effects on Site Integrity (AESI) as a result of the plan or project in view of the sites conservation objectives. At the Appropriate Assessment stage, Caselaw states that in order to ascertain a conclusion of no AESI that “no reasonable scientific doubt remains as to the absence of such effects”.
A ‘competent authority’ (usually a planning authority, though sometimes other organisations such as the Marine Management Organisation or Environment Agency) can only agree to the proposal after having ascertained that it will not adversely affect the integrity of the site, it is usually however the proposer who takes responsibility for setting out an evidence base on which a competent authority can determine a plan or project in line with the requirements of the regulations.
When do I need to get in touch?
The requirement for undertaking a HRA is usually identified at an early stage in any project either through pre-planning advice, contents of local policies or direct communication with statutory nature conservation bodies or other statutory bodies.
Alternatively, the combination of desk study and site assessment included in a Preliminary Ecological Assessment may identify the requirement to undertake an HRA. Investigating possible requirements for HRA at an early stage in any project is advised as the legislation protecting the Natura 2000 network is strong and there is a heavy focus on considering cumulative effects of other plans or projects.
How can EcoNorth help me?
We have extensive experience of undertaking HRAs across England and Scotland on a range of complex sites in both marine and terrestrial environments. This experience is underpinned by our in-depth knowledge of the relevant European Legislation. Together with our knowledge of the relevant habitats and species and in many cases close familiarity with the designated sites themselves, we provide robust advice on any likely significant effects on your site and how best to avoid and/or mitigate for these.