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), 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 S.L.549.44: 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.