The Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs has confirmed it is to carry out an in-depth analysis of how well the EU Habitats and Birds Directives are being applied in England to ‘protected sites’. The review will be completed by March 2012. New guidance is scheduled to be available by the time of next year’s Budget.
Protected sites are Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) under the Habitats Directive and Special Protection Areas (SPAs) under the Birds Directive. There are currently 251 SACs and 84 SPAs in England, covering about six per cent of land and 24 per cent of inshore waters
This move, signalled in the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement, will involve stakeholders and other Government departments.
Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman said: “These Habitats and Birds Directives protect our rarest, most threatened habitats and species and ensure conservation interests are fully taken into account when development proposals are being considered. We strongly support the aims of these Directives. We want them to continue to be effective in protecting these very important wildlife sites and species.”
She added:”The vast majority of development cases do successfully meet the Directives’ requirements but a small number raise particularly complex issues which give rise to unnecessary costs and delays. There’s also the possibility that the Directives are being used in ways for which they were not intended. These issues risk undermining the reputation of the Directives, and the valuable protection they provide.”
She said the Coalition did not want to compromise the current levels of environmental protection.
Defra has explained the analysis will focus on the obligations in the legislation which affect the authorisation process for proposed development “with a view to reducing the burdens on businesses while maintaining and where possible enhancing environmental benefits”.
As part of the exercise the department plans to make it easier for businesses to understand what they must do to comply with the directives by improving Natural England’s support and assistance to developers.
1 December 2011