Habitats Directive Assessments (AASR / AA / NIS)
The aim of the European Habitats Directive (Council Directive 92/43/EEC) is to create a network of protected wildlife sites in Europe, maintained at a favourable conservation status. Each member state must designate their most important natural areas as protected areas. The Directive specifies the scientific criteria on the basis of which protected sites must be selected and very strictly curtails the grounds that can be used as justification for damaging a site. The network of sites is referred to as Natura 2000 and includes Special Areas of Conservation (SAC’s) and Special Protection Areas (SPA’s).
Article 6 of the Habitats Directive provides a strict assessment procedure for any plan or project not directly connected with or necessary to the management of a designated European site but which has the potential to have implications for the site in view of the site’s conservation objectives.
The obligation to undertake an Appropriate Assessment derives from Article 6 of the Habitats Directive, and this process involves a number of steps and tests that need to be applied in sequential order. There are four distinct stages of the Appropriate Assessment and these include:
Stage 1: Appropriate Assessment Screening
This is a simple screening exercise to determine whether the plan or project, individually or in combination with other plans or projects is likely to have a significant effect on a Natura 2000 site. In line with the precautionary approach, this assessment should consider impacts in a worst-case scenario and without reference to any mitigation measures. Supporting information may be requested from the applicant in the form of a Screening for Appropriate Assessment report.
Stage 2: Appropriate Assessment/Natura Impact Statement
If the impacts of a project cannot be confidently ruled out at the screening stage, the assessment must then proceed to Stage 2, which involves a detailed impact assessment. Mitigation measures will usually be required as part of this stage to avoid or reduce negative impacts on Natura 2000 sites. Supporting information will usually be requested from the applicant in the form of a Natura Impact Statement (Republic of Ireland) or Habitats Regulation Assessment (Northern Ireland).
Stage 3: Assessment of Alternative solutions
This stage investigates alternative ways of implementing a project or plan that, where possible, avoids any adverse impacts on a Natura 2000 site. Before a project or plan that either alone or in combination with other projects or plans has adverse effects on a Natura 2000 site can proceed for imperative reasons of overriding public interest, it must be objectively concluded that no less-damaging alternative solutions exist. Therefore, this stage becomes critical if it appears that derogation procedures may need to be pursued.
Stage 4: Imperative reasons of overriding public interest (IROPI)
In the absence of suitable alternative solutions, the competent authority must establish whether or not the plan or project can be considered to be necessary for reasons of overriding public interest (IROPI). These include, as a general protection measure, the need to have reasons of a social or economic nature that critically require the plan or project in question. In these cases, the applicant will need to provide extensive information to support their case and will usually be expected to compensate for negative impacts by improving other parts of the Natura 2000 site.
At AVRIO our ecologists are able to provide early advice to our clients on whether such assessments are likely to be required, as well as all applicable information required by the relevant authorities.
Where required, we assist in the design and development of bespoke packages of mitigation, in consultation with regulatory bodies, to ensure that a plan can proceed with no adverse effects on the integrity of a European site.