What are Habitats Regulations Assessments (HRAs)?
Habitats Regulations Assessments (HRAs) are also known as Appropriate Assessments (AAs). This is a formalised process of identifying, and evaluating impacts of proposed works upon designated sites protected by the Habitats and Birds Directives. These are called Natura 2000 sites. These directives are transposed into law in Northern Ireland by the Conservation (Natural Habitats etc.) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1995.
Under this legislation, all competent authorities in Northern Ireland are required to conduct this process. This involves identifying and evaluating the effects of projects that have the potential to impact upon protected sites prior to undertaking, permitting or authorising such projects.
Developers and others may also wish to have their own ‘shadow’ HRA completed to submit with their proposals. An HRA will be informed by an Ecological Impact Assessment (EcIA), which is informed by all necessary ecological surveys and assessments.
The Habitats Regulations Assessment process, or Appropriate Assessment process, is iterative with each stage informing the next.
- Stage 1: Screening. This is also known as the ‘Test of Likely Significance’. Plans are evaluated in relation to their likely impacts on Natura 2000 sites.
- Stage 2: Appropriate Assessment. This is required where Stage 1 concludes that significant impacts are certain, likely or uncertain. A Natura Impact Statement (NIS) is produced which includes any appropriate mitigation measures.
- Stage 3: Alternative Solutions. If residual impacts remain once appropriate mitigation measures have been considered, alternative solutions are considered.
- Stage 4: Imperative Reasons of Overriding Public Interest. If acceptable alternative solutions do not exist, proposals can only proceed if there are Imperative Reasons of Overriding Public Interest. If this case is presented, compensatory measures will usually be required.
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