Planning Portal

PPS 2: Planning and Nature Conservation
Nature Conservation and Development Control: Development Affecting Sites of International Nature Conservation Importance

39. Proposals for development or land use which may affect a proposed or designated European or Ramsar site will be subject to the most rigorous examination. The Department's Environment and Heritage Service Opens link in a new browser window will first establish if a proposed development is directly connected with or necessary to the management of the site. If it is not, and the Department concludes that it is likely to have a significant effect on the nature conservation interests of a European or Ramsar site (either along or in combination with other plans or projects), it will consider its implications in view of that site's conservation objectives. In such cases, the Environment and Heritage Service will give advice on whether a proposal will adversely affect the integrity of the site and on the scope and content of the appropriate environmental assessment required to accompany the proposal. This will depend on the location, size and significance of the proposed project. The integrity of the site is defined as "the coherence of its ecological structure and function, across its whole area, that enables it to sustain the habitat, complex of habitats and/or the levels of populations of the species for which it was classified"5.
40. The environmental assessment required under the Habitats Regulations does not correspond to an environmental assessment as required by the Planning (Assessment of Environmental Effects) Regulations (NI) 1989 (the 'EA Regulations'), although for some projects an environmental impact assessment will be necessary (see paras 71-74 below). In such cases, the Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations will be sufficient for the environmental assessment required by the Habitats Regulations.
41. If the Department finds that the proposed development will adversely affect the integrity of the site, and that this effect will not be removed by conditions, then planning permission will not be granted except in the following circumstances:-
  1. The Department must first be satisfied that there are no alternative solutions. This means that the Department will consider whether there are, or are likely to be, suitable and available sites, which are reasonable alternatives for the proposed development, or different, practicable approaches which would have a lesser impact. Applicants should demonstrate that they have fully considered solutions.
  2. If there are no alternative solutions, and the site does not host a priority natural habitat type or species, planning permission will not be granted unless the proposed development has to be carried out for imperative reasons of overriding public interest, including those of a social or economic nature. Such reasons would need to be sufficient to override the ecological importance of the designation.
  3. If the site hosts a priority habitat or species, and there is no alternative solution, the only considerations which can justify the granting of planning permission are those which relate to human health, public safety, or beneficial consequences of primary importance to the environment or to other reasons which in the opinion of the European Commission are imperative reasons of overriding public interest.
42. In order to ensure that the requirements of the Habitats Directive are complied with, a consultation zone will be identified around each SAC and SPA, within which all developments will be scrutinised to ensure that they will not adversely affect the interests of the designated site.
43. The process for considering a planning application for development affecting a European site is represented in the flow chart in Annex 4.
This section contains the following sub-categories:
5 PPG9 Planning Policy Guidance: Nature Conservation (Annex c) October 1994
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