Habitats Regulatory Assessment

Key Legislation:

For more detail on the Legislation relevant to this page, please use the following links:

Seaward Oil and Gas Licensing Round Appropriate Assessments: With each offshore oil and gas licensing round, a screening assessment is undertaken to ascertain whether oil and gas activities in any of the blocks would be likely to result in any likely significant effects on a Natura 2000 site. The most recent screening assessment was published in January 2020 as part of the 32nd Seaward Licensing Round. This assessment and the 9 assessments for the previous licensing rounds can be found here.
Requirement for ‘Habitats Regulatory Assessment’: Habitats Regulatory Assessment is the formal assessment by the Competent Authority of the impacts of a plan or project on the integrity of (a) natura 2000 site(s). Habitats Regulatory Assessment is a process separate from the EIA requirements, but which should run alongside and concurrently with the EIA requirements. Neither procedure overrides the other; both must be followed where both sets of Regulations apply. In many cases, plans or projects that will be subject to a Habitats Regulatory Assessment will also require an Environmental Statement.
How to apply for it: A project must first be screened to establish whether Habitats Regulatory Assessment is likely to be required. The screening stage will determine if the potential impacts of plan or project can be ‘screened out’ from the need for further assessment work (i.e. it will not have a significant negative impact on the Natura sites). ‘Habitats Regulatory Assessment’ must be appropriate to its purpose under the Habitats Directive and Regulations however neither the directive, or the regulations specify how the stages of AA should be undertaken. Various guidance documents have been drafted to assist in the implementation of the process. See guidance section below for further details.
Who to Apply to: A ‘competent authority’ (CA) is the authority with the power or duty to determine whether or not a proposal can proceed. For land use planning applications the competent authority in England and Wales is usually the Local Authority. For other forms of onshore application including waste management licensing, IPPC applications and Flood Risk Management in England the CA is the Environment Agency.In Scotland, the CA is usually the Local Authority or the Scottish Government:Rural and Environment Directorate
The Scottish Government
Area 1-D North
Victoria Quay
EH6 6QQEmail: naturalresources@scotland.gsi.gov.ukTel: 0131 244-6952
Fax: 0131 244-4071Offshore, the CA is usually the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS):Environmental Management Team
Email: emt@decc.gsi.gov.uk
Tel: 01224 254045/254050
When to apply: The operator can apply to the competent authority at any time for a screening decision on the need for Habitats Regulatory Assessment. It is most usual for the AA process to be conducted in parallel with the EIA process for any given project.
Conditions of Consent: Project approval and achievement of the relevant development consents / planning permissions will be dependent on the findings of the Habitats Regulatory Assessment (amongst other factors) in particular the expectation that commitments made in terms of mitigation and management of potential impacts on protected species and habitats will be adhered to.
Monitoring and Surveillance: Monitoring and surveillance of Natura sites and species is undertaken by JNCC as an ongoing process.AA sets conditions which must be adhered to as part of a permissions/consent. Specific monitoring requirements may be set through the conditions of consent
Reporting: Not directly applicable.
Enforcement Powers: The planning/consenting authority is obliged to take proper account of the obligations stemming from the Birds and Habitats Directives to protect and conserve the marine and terrestrial environments. Natural England has powers to enforce the obligations set out under the conditions of licence. Enforcement will be applied following Natural England Enforcement Policy. Complaints or reports of an alleged offence will be investigated. Enforcement powers can range from a simple caution to prosecution under the relevant legislation. Scottish Natural Heritage cannot instigate proceedings in Scotland. The law is enforced by the police and each force in Scotland has its own Wildlife Crime Officer
 Not directly applicable.
Habitats Regulatory Assessment (or appropriate assessment): There may be a need in future for any Habitats Regulatory Assessments to go to public consultation (adding a further 28 days to the approval period).

Key Organisations:

Key organisations involved in protection and enhancement of biodiversity include

JNCC Guidelines – Impacts from Underwater noise:

Statutory nature conservation agency protocol for minimising the risk of injury to marine mammals from piling noise:  August 2010 (PDF document). This guidance outlines a protocol for the mitigation of potential underwater noise impacts arising from pile driving. The protocol is aimed at the offshore wind farm construction however also has relevance to other industries in the marine environment which use pile driving, including the oil and gas industry. JNCC guidelines for minimising the risk of injury to marine mammals from using explosives (PDF document).These guidelines have been written for activities on the United Kingdom Continental Shelf (UKCS), and are aimed at reducing the risk of injury to negligible levels and potentially reduce the risk of disturbance from explosive activities to marine mammals including seals, whales, dolphins and porpoises.

Consultation on the Habitats Regulations Assessment (HRA)

The Oil & Gas Authority’s (OGA) has released its response to the consultation on the Habitats Regulatory Assessment of the 14th Onshore Oil and Gas Licensing Round, which ran between 18th August 2015 and 29th September 2015. The publication denotes respondents consultation replies, summarizing responses received, and setting out the OGA’s response to the issues raised in the consultation and the OGA’s next steps.The response can be viewed here (pdf document)

Consultation – Onshore oil and gas sector guidance

The Environmental Agency offerred guidance and support for oil and gas companies and their consultants setting out which environmental permits are needed for onshore oil and gas exploration and extraction operations being undertaken in England. The summary of consultation responses were published on the 4th August 2016.