As recently as September 2012 the Habitats Regulations have been updated. It is important to be aware of this but equally you need to ensure that anyone you are in contact with and need to engage with regard to habitats is aware of them as well.
The first and most crucial part of this is that anyone applying for Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIPs) in England and Wales agree to provide evidence and cooperate with the relevant statutory nature conservation bodies (SNCBs). This allows an SNCB to give recommendations to the secretary of state with regard to whether or not an application can be accepted or whether a project needs to be assessed before it can go ahead.
A positive aspect of the new guidelines is that it clarifies what kind of evidence is required by someone planning a new infrastructure project. It means any potential issues can be addressed and this can reduce both delays and costs to the applicant as they do not have to deal with these issues mid construction.
However it is important to remember that evidence plans are in addition to any current building requirements and not in place of. Ideally anyone planning any NSIPs should work closely with SNCBs to ensure that the evidence is collected in the right way and most importantly that the potential environmental impact of a project is properly assessed and considered.
There are four stages to agreeing an evidence plan-
- An applicant requests an evidence plan
- An applicant discusses the evidence plan with relevant local SNCBs who then agree on this plan.
- An applicant gathers evidence and this is then assessed by the relevant SNCB.
- The process is finalised and the project is allowed to go ahead.
As well as agreeing to the process itself, NSIP applicants are expected to agree to a specific timeline and methodology approved by the SNCB. Equally an SNCB is expected to be fair and proportionate, giving clear advice to the NSIP organisers and working with them to resolve any potential problems.
In short the aim of these new guidelines is to strike an important balance between reducing the costs and delays of an infrastructure project while at the same time ensuring habitats are properly protected during the course of any construction work.