English Nature provides advice to competent authorities intending to carry out appropriate assessment of plans or projects likely to affect European wildlife sites, with regard to consulting statutory bodies and the general public. This is done through their Habitats Regulations Guidance Note 1 (“The Role of the Appropriate Assessment in Regulation 48 of the Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c.) Regulations 1994”). This guidance relates to assessment being carried out under regulation 48 of the Conservation (Natural Habitats etc) Regulations 1994. The Guidance Note does not provide specific advice for consulting other interested parties, though it does advise that consulting the general public,
“may include taking the opinion of others with relevant knowledge or expertise”.
This advice in relation to consulting statutory bodies, other interested parties and the general public does not specifically relate to the obligations placed upon competent authorities under regulation 3 of the Conservation (Natural Habitats etc) Regulations 1994 (as amended).
My Department is currently considering what further guidance is necessary in relation to obligations placed upon competent authorities regarding appropriate assessment of plans and projects. These considerations will be informed by the results of the public consultation on Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c.) (Amendment) (England and Wales) Regulations 2006 due to end on 30 June 2006.
There is no requirement in the Conservation (Natural Habitats etc) Regulations 1994 for competent authorities to report the results of appropriate assessment carried out under regulation 48 of these Regulations to (a), (b) or (c) if the authority concludes the plan or project will not adversely affect the integrity of a European site.
Where a competent authority other than the Secretary of State proposes to agree to a plan or project under regulation 49 (that is where a plan or project is considered necessary in the overriding public interest), notwithstanding a negative assessment of the implications for a European site, it must notify the Secretary of State in England. There is no requirement under the Conservation (Natural Habitats etc) Regulations 1994 to report the outcome of the appropriate assessment in these circumstances to the European Commission. As a matter of policy however, the Secretary of State reports the outcome of such assessments in the above circumstances to the European Commission, including details of how appropriate compensatory measures have been secured. Equivalent provisions exist in Scotland. Appropriate assessments carried out under the planning regime would normally constitute public documents.
Appropriate assessments carried out under other consent regimes would normally, where not already in the public domain, be available under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 or the Environmental Information Regulations 2004.
Competent authorities proposing to agree to a plan or project not specified by Regulations 54 to 85 of the Conservation (Natural Habitats etc.) Regulations 1994, notwithstanding a negative assessment of the implications for a European site, are (a) not required to notify the Secretary of State and (b) not required to agree to the plan or project for a period of 21 days unless the Secretary of State notifies them that they may do so.