My Department is awaiting formal advice from Natural England and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, which is due on 18 July. We will then examine all the evidence before us and work towards a public consultation, which we plan to begin in December, with the first tranche of sites being designated in summer 2013.
Although it is always best to draw on the widest evidence base for policy, the Department’s guidance is clear that that is not a good enough reason for delaying site selection. We are an island nation and these marine habitats are an extraordinary natural resource. Let us get on with establishing these conservation zones.
To refer to an answer I gave earlier, it is clear that policy needs to be made on an evidence base. Therefore, the science advisory panel—an independent body of expert marine scientists—was established to support the four regional projects in selecting marine conservation zones. It offered the objective scientific advice that we need to make decisions.