Habitat Regulations Assessment
Habitats Regulations Assessment (HRA) is required where a plan or project may give rise to significant effects upon a Natura 2000 site or sites (European designated site(s)). In the UK these sites comprise Special Protection Areas (SPAs) and Special Areas of Conservation (SACs). As a matter of policy, all competent authorities are also expected to treat listed Ramsar sites as designated European sites. The HRA process is aimed at protecting internationally important habitats/species and bird populations (Natura 2000 sites).
Habitat Regulation Assessment is undertaken over several stages.
- Stage 1: Screening (Test/Assessment of Likely Significant Effect)
- Stage 2: Appropriate Assessment
- Stage 3: Assessment of alternative solutions
- Stage 4: Assessment of imperative reasons of overriding public interest
Stage 1 assesses whether the proposals have a Likely Significant Effect (LSE) on a Natura 2000 site and needs to be completed in the absence of any mitigation. Where LSEs are identified, effects are assessed in Stage 2 with respect to the interest features of the site(s) and its conservation objectives, to determine the nature of the effects on the integrity of the Natura 2000 site. The Appropriate Assessment should seek mitigation measures that will reduce the impact to the lowest level possible.
Where it cannot be ascertained that the project would not have an adverse effect on the integrity of a Natura 2000 site, an assessment of alternative solutions must be undertaken to identify if there are alternatives that have a lesser effect on the Natura 2000 site. Where no alternative solutions exist and negative impacts remain, an assessment is made with regard to whether or not the proposed development is necessary for Imperative Reasons of Overriding Public Interest (IROPI), which is a difficult test to satisfy. If it is, this stage also involves the determination of compensatory measures needed to protect and maintain the overall coherence of the Natura 2000 network.
A Competent Authority (often the Local Planning Authority) will require sufficient information to make the Appropriate Assessment where a Natura 2000 site is affected either directly or indirectly. This often results in the preparation of a Shadow HRA being submitted to inform a planning application. Certain permitted developments also require HRAs to be undertaken.
Planning permission typically cannot be granted unless sufficient information has been provided and the Competent Authority and Statutory Nature Conservation Organisation are satisfied that there will be no residual impacts on Natura 2000 sites.
Residential Developments and Natura 2000 Sites – ‘Suitable Accessible Natural Green Space’ (SANGS) was originally developed by Natural England in relation to the Thames Basin Heaths Special Protection Area (SPA). SANGS provide additional green recreational areas that fulfil certain semi-natural criteria, in order to successfully draw new residents and existing recreational use away from the European designated site, thereby avoiding any impact. SANGS policies typically require a specific amount of new and/or improved green space for every new dwelling unit or per new floor-space of residential provision. This approach is currently being introduced for the Sefton Coast where any residential developments over 10 houses that are in close proximity to a Natura 2000 site, are subject to a contribution given to the LPA towards the development of SANGS. ESL are currently working on sites using this approach to unlock the residential development potential on sites in close proximity to SPA sites.
Significant biodiversity enhancements can be incorporated into SANGS designs, which can be used as mitigation for other potential ecological impacts associated with a scheme; reducing land take from development whilst simultaneously securing ecological