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Is the sun setting on Habitat Regulations?

At this year’s COP15, governments from across the globe are working together to agree on targets to tackle the biodiversity crisis. With the need for urgent action to ensure the protection of species and ecosystems across the world, the pressure is on, and the stakes are high.

15 December 2022 | 5 min read
Mike E Barker
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The UK is one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world. But innovative solutions to nature’s recovery are making their way up the priority list, and the UK Government has committed to international nature recovery targets across 30% of land and sea by 2030.

The property development industry has a significant impact on biodiversity loss and, as a result, has an important role to play in protecting and restoring our natural world as we move forward. Through the Habitat Regulations, nature positive development has been a priority in the planning process for years, but as we look to untangle ourselves from EU law through the Brexit Freedom Bill, the regulations are subject to change ahead of the December 2023 deadline.

Now, at a time when nature needs them more than ever, there is a threat that the Habitats Regulations will be weakened or taken away altogether.

Mike Barker, Director of Ecology looks at what could be next for the Habitat Regulations.

River in the foreground, trees in the background

Why are they changing?

HRs are under review as part of the Retained Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill (REUL), also known as the Brexit Freedoms Bill.

The REUL Bill doesn’t just revoke EU law ‘that is not right for the UK’, it automatically revokes all EU-derived laws at the end of 2023 unless they’re specifically extended, reinstated, or replaced.

Are there ‘flexible’ Habitat Regulations solutions?

We use the term ‘flexible’ loosely, but there are mechanisms for compensation that can help you clear some of the hurdles around HRAs – although these are not easily done. These include:    

  1. Low impact licensing for Bats
  • If the risk is small and impacts common species, you can move forward without an HRA.
  1. District licensing for Great Crested Newts (GCN)
  • Aims to conserve the populations of GCNs, rather than the individual animals. This approach is very positive for habitat creation and enhancement.
  1. Suitable Alternative Natural Greenspace (SANGs)
  • A recreational site, created to attract residents of new developments away from designated sites such as SACs and SPAS.
  • Success here is dependent upon location and design of SANG
  • This is evolving into a financial contribution instead of SANG delivery
Energy & Renewables - Offshore Wind Farm

Spotlight on the British Energy Security Strategy (BESS)

Round4, ScotWind and future offshore wind leasing rounds are not compatible with the Habitat Regs due to the layers of precaution required. This over precautionary approach is causing huge delays and leaving progress at a standstill. As a result, through BESS, the Government have committed to reduce the offshore wind consent time to one year – a big change from the current process which can take up to four years.

With the UK holding internationally important populations of breeding seabirds, many breeding colonies and important foraging areas around the coast receive protection as SPAs under the Habitat Regulations.

But without this protection, seabird populations, especially along the UK’s east coast, face significant threats from the potential impacts of future offshore wind development. Marine habitats that provide essential food sources will also be under threat due to the huge amounts of cables needed to bring electricity to land.

Habitat regulations and its deadline day

There is a need to review and strengthen environmental law due to the severe climate and nature emergencies we currently face. And, although proven to be frustrating, rigid and precautionary, Habitat Regulations Assessments do protect and restore biodiversity.

What amendments are made is yet to be decided. But it’s vital any changes are thoroughly planned out and rationalised, for the greater good of the environment and the restoration it needs. Solutions may be harder to find and harder to agree but they are vital if we are to meet the targets being set.    

Mike Barker COP15 Landing page Asset.jpg (1)