Under Article 6 of the Council Directive 92/43/EEC on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora (the “Habitats Directive”) an assessment is required where a plan or project may give rise to significant effects upon a Natura 2000 site.

The Natura 2000 network comprises Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) (designated under the Habitats Directive) and Special Protection Areas (SPA), designated under Directive 2009/147/EC on the conservation of wild birds (the codified version of the earlier Council Directive 79/409/EEC as amended). The requirements of the Habitats Directive are transposed into UK law through the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010 (as amended) the ‘Habitats Regulations’.

Planning Inspectorate Advice Note 10 (version 7, January 2016) describes how the Habitats Regulations Assessment (HRA) process should be undertaken for NSIPs. An HRA Report must identify the designated site(s) that may be affected and contain sufficient information to enable decision-makers to undertake an HRA in accordance with the Habitats Regulations.

The Evidence Plan process is key to producing a robust HRA, working collaboratively with statutory agencies at every stage in order to focus evidence requirements on the key predicted impacts.

It is a four step process which ultimately aims to ensure that no new development will have a significant effect on a protected site. These four steps are outlined below:

Stage 1

Screening
The screening process identifies where likely impacts arising from a project might occur and influences the information included at the next stage.

Stage 2

Appropriate Assessment
The impacts identified through Screening are considered in detail and assessed in terms of the likely effect on the integrity of European protected sites. Where adverse impacts are predicted, options for mitigation will be explored. If mitigation cannot reduce the impacts to an acceptable level then stages 3 and 4 will be followed.

Stage 3

Assessment of Alternatives
Alternative methods to achieve the objectives of the project which avoid or lessen the effect on European protected sites are explored.

Stage 4

IROPI
Where no alternative exists and adverse impacts remain, the project will be considered in terms of “Imperative Reasons of Overriding Public Interest” (IROPI), where compensatory measures may be taken to maintain the integrity of the European protected site.

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