Development affecting Ramsar Sites, SACs and SPAs

Development affecting Ramsar Sites, Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and Special Protection Areas (SPAs)

General Process

Developments (and other plans or projects) which occur within or near to a Natura 2000 site (a Special Protection Area (SPA) or Special
Area of Conservation (SAC)) require assessment under a process laid down in the Habitats Directive. In essence the process, as set
out in the Directive, is relatively simple; however, the exact meaning of the words is the subject of additional guidance documents
and case law, which means that Habitats Regulation Assessments (HRA) have become legally and technically complex. A brief summary of the process is set out below.

Local planning authorities (or other ‘competent authority’) must determine whether any proposed development is likely to have a significant effect on a Natura 2000 site. The exception to this is if the development is a ‘permitted development’ and the relevant nature conservation organisation has agreed that the development is unlikely to have a significant effect on the designated site. It is important to note that the development does not need to be located within the designated site to have a significant effect.

In determining whether a development is likely to have a significant effect, the local planning authority must consider the development
alone and in combination with other plans or projects. The nature and scale of the development and its proximity to the designated
site will be important considerations. As well as direct effects, such as habitat loss, indirect effects, such as pollution or increased
visitor numbers, must also be considered.

If the development is considered likely to have a significant effect on the site, the local planning authority must undertake an Appropriate
Assessment to determine whether the development is likely to adversely affect the designated site.

In carrying out the Appropriate Assessment, the local planning authority should identify the effects of the proposal on the habitats or
species of international importance, and should conclude whether the proposal, as modified by conditions or restrictions, would adversely
affect the ecological integrity of the designated site. During this process, the planning authority would usually consult the relevant
nature conservation organisation, as well as the general public.

The local planning authority can only agree to the plan or project if:

  • It will not ‘adversely affect the integrity of the site concerned’ (Article 6 (3)). ‘Integrity’ is defined as the ‘coherence of ecological
    structure and function, across a site’s whole area, that enables it to sustain the complex of habitats and/or the levels of populations
    of a species for which it was classified’; or
  • There is no alternative solution and there are ‘imperative reasons of overriding public interest, including those of a social or economic
    nature’ (Article 6 (4)). In such a case, compensatory measures must be taken to ensure the overall coherence of the Natura 2000
    network.

Throughout this process the onus is on the developer to provide the information for the Appropriate Assessment. In practice, it is normal
to appoint a consultant to undertake the assessment for consideration by the local planning authority.

National Variations:

England: The process set out above for Natura 2000 sites also applies to Ramsar sites as a matter of policy.

Ireland: The appropriate assessment is typically set out in a document called a Natura Impact Statement.