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Habitats and Wild Birds Directive

Volume 542: debated on Thursday 22 March 2012

I am pleased to announce that the Government have published their report on the habitats and wild birds directives implementation review.

The review was launched at the autumn statement. At that time I underlined our strong support for the aims of these directives, and clearly explained how we want to ensure that they continue to be effective in protecting our vital network of wildlife sites and species, some of our most valuable environmental assets.

The review has provided a timely opportunity to take a fresh look at the way the habitats and wild birds directives are being implemented in England and to find out how we can do things better, more simply, and more efficiently without compromising their fundamental objectives.

Today’s report sets out the findings from this important piece of work. It includes a strong, practical set of measures designed to make it easier for people who need to work with the regulations to understand them and comply, thereby enhancing the reputation and environmental integrity of the directives. Designed to facilitate major infrastructure, improve guidance, data and the customer experience, key measures include:

Establishing a cross-Government major infrastructure and environment unit to start in April 2012 to improve pre-application identification and support resolution of issues associated with the directives for nationally significant infrastructure projects.

Publishing by November 2012 a draft of new simplified overarching guidance manual which will clarify key legal terms involved in the development authorisation process. This will ensure that guidance is more accessible and easily understandable by both large and small developers.

Action to tackle data gaps to reduce delays and higher costs, particularly for marine developments, by requiring statutory nature conservation bodies to agree an evidence plan with developers upfront for nationally significant infrastructure projects, and by new data collection and sharing arrangements—including a new habitats and wild birds directives marine evidence group.

Holding all relevant public bodies to account for a more customer-focused culture which will support sustainable development.

I am grateful for the strong contributions to the work of the review from a wide cross section of stakeholders. I look forward to continuing to work closely together with them as we deliver the important set of measures in today’s package.

The full response and terms of reference for the major infrastructure and environment unit are available on the DEFRA website www.defra.gov.uk.