Development affecting Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) and National Nature Reserves (NNRs)
(England, Wales and Scotland)
Proposed developments of the types listed in the EIA Regulations that fall within a SSSI (including all NNRs) are likely to require
an Environmental Impact Assessment, regardless of the size of the development, before planning permission can be granted. For all
developments (including those that fall outside the EIA Regulations) that require planning permission and may affect a SSSI, the
local planning authority must consult with the relevant nature conservation organisation while it is considering the application
for planning permission. This usually also applies to developments that fall within a defined area around a SSSI.
Local planning authorities have a statutory duty (under Section 28G of the Wildlife and Countryside Act in England and Wales and Section
12 of the Nature Conservation Scotland Act 2004 in Scotland) not only to avoid damage to SSSIs but to further their conservation
and enhancement. In addition, there is protection at the National Policy level for SSSIs. This legislation and policy mean that
planning permission is unlikely to be granted for many developments that damage SSSIs.
However, if a planning authority intends to grant permission in such circumstances, it must notify the relevant nature conservation
organisation of its decision and allow sufficient time for the relevant nature conservation organisation to respond before works
begin on site. To protect SSSIs from operations outside the scope of planning controls, owners and occupiers are required to notify
the relevant nature conservation organisation if they wish to carry out work that may damage a SSSI or if they are considering
authorising others to do so. It should be noted that this applies to operations both within and outside the SSSI that may affect
the feature or features of interest. For permitted development affecting SSSIs, developers must either obtain consent from the
relevant nature conservation organisation or apply for planning permission from the LPA in the normal way.
Note that all Ramsar and Natura 2000 sites are also SSSIs and are therefore subject to the protection outlined above as well as specific
protection under the Ramsar Convention or Habitats Regulations.
Protection for SSSIs at the National Policy level is provided by the National Planning Policy Framework. This makes clear that planning
permission should not normally be granted for proposed developments on land inside or outside a SSSI if the development is likely
to have an adverse effect on the SSSI (either individually or in combination with other developments). In common with policies
in other countries, the policy makes clear that there can be exceptions. These are when “the benefits of the development, at this
site, clearly outweigh both the impacts that it is likely to have on the features of the site that make it of special scientific
interest and any broader impacts on the national network of Sites of Special Scientific Interest”.
Natural England has established a series of Impact Risk Zones (IRZs) around SSSIs. These zones are set at varying distances from the
SSSI and are determined by the site’s notified features and their sensitivity to both direct and residual developmental impacts.
The criteria for each zone identify types of development proposals that are likely to impact upon the SSSI at certain distances
and categorises them as low, medium or high risk. Medium and high risk proposals are usually subject to in depth examination by
Protection for SSSIs at the National Policy level is provided by Planning Policy Wales and TAN5. These policies include a presumption
against development which is likely to damage a SSSI. Moreover, they reinforce the statutory requirement for Natural Resources
Wales to be consulted before any planning application affecting a SSSI is approved, whilst making clear that the planning authority
must take its advice into account in deciding whether to grant planning permission and in attaching planning conditions. This is
likely to result in the application being ‘called-in’ for determination by the Welsh Ministers. In Wales, the consultation area
around a SSSI is normally within 500m but may extend 2km or more from the SSSI boundary for certain kinds of development.
Protection at the National Policy level is provided by Scottish Planning Policy. This states that development affecting SSSIs should
only be permitted “where the objectives of designation and the overall integrity of the area will not be compromised; or any significant
adverse effects on the qualities for which the area has been designated are clearly outweighed by social, environmental or economic
benefits of national importance”.