Appropriate Assessment

The Article 6 Assessment, better known as the Appropriate Assessment, evaluates the significance of the impacts of a proposed plan or project (either individually or in combination with other proposals) on sites of EU importance (Natura 2000 sites)he Article 6 Assessment, better known as the Appropriate Assessment, evaluates the significance of the impacts of a proposed plan or project (either individually or in combination with other proposals) on sites of EU importance (Natura 2000 sites), in order to inform the decision-making process.

 
The EU’s two main Nature Directives are the Habitats Directive (Directive 92/43/EEC) and the Birds Directive (Directive 2009/147/EC), both of which require Member States to declare protected areas and manage them.
 
The management of these protected areas includes the regulation of development which may affect their integrity, structure and function, or the individual habitats and species, or habitats of species for which these protected areas were designated.
 
The EU Habitats Directive was transposed into national legislation via Legal Notice 311 of 2006: the Flora, Fauna and Natural Habitats Protection Regulations, 2006.
 
Regulation 19 of this Legal Notice, transposing Article 6 of the Habitats Directive requires the assessment of all plans or projects which are not directly connected with or necessary to the management of the protected site and which may give rise to significant effects upon a Natura 2000 site or on a habitat or species for which the site was designated. This assessment is carried out to inform the decision-making process to ensure that the sites are protected from unnecessary damage as a result of the plan or project.
 
 
The Appropriate Assessment starts with two questions:
  • Is the proposal directly connected with or necessary to the management of the SAC/SPA?
 
and if not
  • Is the proposal likely to have a significant impact on the site, either individually or in combination with other plans or projects?
 
If the answer to the second question is affirmative or unclear, then further assessment is necessary in order to determine the significance of the impact, and whether this can be avoided altogether or minimized through the implementation of mitigation measures or alternative solutions.
 
This information allows an informed decision to be taken.  If the impact is not considered to be significant, or can be rendered insignificant through the application of mitigation measures, then the proposal can proceed, however, if mitigation measures cannot eliminate significant impacts, then the proposal should be refused.

How is the AA Process handled?

Basic screening of all relevant proposals is carried out to determine whether or not they are connected with or necessary to the management of the protected site, and if not, to identify whether or not there is a likely significant impact, either as a result of the individual proposal, or as a result of cumulative effects of the proposal together with other existing plans and projects.
 
In some cases, further specific information may be required to conclude the assessment.
 
In more complex cases, more detailed investigation may be required. In these cases, the applicant is required to engage relevant experts to carry out this assessment, and terms of reference as guidance for the necessary investigation are provided. The resulting report is then reviewed for an informed technical opinion.

Frequently Asked Questions

·         How is it decided which files to screen for AA?
As a rule of thumb, the following criteria are generally adopted to decide which proposals should undergo the AA procedure as outlined above:
-          Proposals located within SAC, SPA, or both
-          Proposals supporting species/habitats listed in the Directive/LN
-     Proposals that are outside SACs/SPAs, but are close to them or within their reasonable area of influence (e.g. further upstream in the immediate valley catchment) such that they may plausibly have a significant impact thereon
 
·         What is the difference between AA and EIA?
The AA is solely focused on the direct and indirect impacts of plans and projects on the ecology of the SAC/SPA in question.  Unlike EIA, there is no schedule listing the type of projects and/or scale to determine whether or not plans or projects qualify for such assessment. Any plan or project, irrespective of its size, may be subjected to the AA process.
 
The AA is not a substitute for other environmental assessments or permitting mechanisms (e.g. development consent, EIA, operational permitting, etc.), or vice-versa. If, for example, the development qualifies for both AA and EIA, then both need to be carried out and submitted as free-standing documents (whilst naturally avoiding any unnecessary duplication of studies).
 
·         I have been requested to carry out an AA and the expected impacts are significant, even after mitigation measures are in place – what are my options?
If the AA identifies significant impacts that cannot be effectively mitigated or avoided, or major uncertainties, further steps arising from Article 6(4) of the Habitats Directive have to be followed, if the proposal is to be considered further. 
The first step in the process is to examine the possibility of resorting to alternative solutions which respect the integrity of the site in question. These could involve alternative locations, different scale or design of development, or alternative processes/technologies.
If the alternative solutions still cannot eliminate significant negative impacts, the plan/project can only be considered further if there are "imperative reasons of overriding public interest, including those of a social or economic nature". This only applies to plans/projects falling within the following three categories:
-          aiming to protect fundamental values for citizens’ lives (health, safety, environment);
-          fundamental for the State and society;
-          activities of an economic or social nature, fulfilling specific obligations of public service.
If a proposal does not fall within any of these categories, then a refusal is mandatory.
Where priority species or priority habitat types are involved, the only considerations which may be raised are those relating to human health, public safety, or beneficial consequences of primary importance for the environment. Moreover, an independent appraisal by the European Commission is necessary in such cases.
If ERA deems it appropriate to proceed further with a proposal that will have a negative significant impact in view of imperative reasons of overriding public interest as described above, compensatory measures to make up for the negative effects on the species or habitat concerned are required.
·         What are Mitigation and Compensatory Measures?
Mitigation Measures are measures taken to avoid or minimize expected significant impacts, such as the use of silt curtains to avoid dispersal of dust, or the timing of works to avoid disturbance of birds during the more crucial times of year.
Compensatory measures can only be considered when a development is considered necessary/inevitable for imperative reasons of overriding public interest. They are measures taken to offset any unavoidable impacts, and may include, amongst others, the protection of an equivalent area that was previously not legally protected in view of the fact that such an area would contain a habitat or species identical to that being negatively affected by the proposed development, or the creation of a habitat type for a species threatened by the project.
It is important to understand that both mitigation and compensatory measures go beyond any already-existing legal obligations, such as the drawing up of a management plan.