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Volume 229: debated on Friday 23 July 1993

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To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement on the implementation in the land use planning system of the new EC directive on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora; and when the Government will publish the planning policy guidance note on nature conservation.

The Government expect to lay draft regulations to implement the planning aspects of the EC habitats directive in Great Britain in the autumn. They will provide for the formal designation of special areas of conservation—SACs—pursuant to the habitats directive and of special protective areas—SPAs—pursuant to the birds directive. There are currently 72 designated SPAs.We are continuing to work on the details of the implementation of the directive, but our current proposals are to require decisions taken under the planning and related legislation to accord with the relevant requirements of the directive. The draft regulations will, it is proposed, include a requirement to take appropriate steps under that legislation to help meet the obligation under the directive to avoid significant deterioration of natural habitats and the habitats of species in designated SPAs and SACs. Where a proposed development is likely to have a significant effect on an SAC or SPA, and is not directly connected with or necessary to site management, the local planning authority or other decision taker will be required to assess the proposal for its implications on the conservation objectives for which the area was designated.The regulations will provide that development may proceed if the assessment shows that it will not adversely affect the integrity of the site. If the assessment indicates that a negative effect on the nature conservation interest will result, the development may only be allowed if there are no alternative solution and if there are imperative reasons of overriding public interest, including those of social or economic nature. There are stricter considerations for sites. which host priority natural habitats or species, which are considered to be in danger of extinction.The Department of the Environment and the Welsh Office will publish the planning policy guidance note on nature conservation after Parliament has considered the draft Regulations and before they come into force. The PPG will provide guidance on how the Government's policies on the conservation of our natural heritage should be reflected in land use planning. It will also set out the main obligations under both domestic and international law, which local planning authorities need to know in drawing up development plans and in taking planning decisions.The Scottish Office will publish an explanatory circular at about the same time, and intends to issue in draft in the autumn more comprehensive guidance for local authorities and others on the natural heritage in Scotland.