Physical Planning

Appropriate Assessment for plans

Considering issues regarding the protection of natural resources early on in regional or physical plans helps to provide a framework for the development of projects in  a manner that avoid conflicts with the objectives of nature conservation. Preliminary implementation of NATURA 2000 in plans enables the swift and cost-efficient development of projects which saves money of investor as well as for the state.

Therefore, the Habitats Directive requires a carefully assessment of plans. This ensures that NATURA 2000 is considered in the l development process as early as possible.

The obligation of Appropriate Assessment for plans affecting Natura 2000 sites and related procedures is set out by Articles 6(3) and 6(4) of the Habitats Directive (92/43/EEC). Article 6(3) establishes the requirement for the proper Appropriate Assessment. Article 6(4) goes on to discuss alternative solutions, the test of “imperative reasons of overriding public interest” (IROPI) and compensatory measures.

The whole process of determining whether or not the plan will affect the site(s) is referred to as “nature impact assessment” in Croatia. 

The Habitats Directive does neither provide an exact definition of the terms “plan” and “project” nor of their scope of application. The term “plan” also has a broad meaning including land-use plans and sectoral plans or programmes, but leaving out general policy statements.

“Plans and programmes” are defined by the SEA Directive (2001/42/EC): “For the purposes of this Directive, “plans and programmes” shall mean plans and programmes, including those co-financed by the European Community, as well as any modifications to them:

•           which are subject to preparation and/or adoption by an authority at national, regional or local level or which are prepared by an authority for adoption, through a legislative procedure by Parliament or Government, and

•           which are required by legislative, regulatory or administrative provisions.“

The assessment of a plan does not replace the need to assess a project later on. However, there is much that can be done at the plan-level to reduce the risks that proposed projects will have an adverse effect. This will reduce the amount of project level appropriate assessments that will be needed and minimise inconsistencies arising between the plan and the project.


7 recommendations for preparation of plans

Contrary to a specific project, a physical plan does not define how the future projects have to be implemented on the designated area. The allocation of a building site for a business does not clarify e.g.

o          where the building will be exactly situated

o          if the building will effect ground water

o          how high the building will be

o          Which emissions can be expected (noise, polluting gases, light,...)

Therefore there it can be hard to be confident that there will not be a negative effect on Natura 2000 sites. We suggest the following should be taken into account in the preparation of plans:

1.         Consider NATURA 2000 early on in the plan development process. Start with a precautionary list of Natura 2000 sites that might be affected. It is easier to screen out Natura 2000 sites later on rather than add in additional ones.

2.         Ensure that all the information on why the sites were designated and the conservation objectives are properly understood.

3.         Determine the factors which will sustain its qualifying features and ensure their continuing viability. The focus should be on the site’s qualifying features and associated conservation objectives, but these rely fundamentally on ecological processes and functions for their maintenance in a favourable condition. Essential to the maintenance of site in favourable condition are those environmental conditions which enable key ecological processes and functions to persist. These might include the quantity of water reaching a site, the quality of air, the stability of the climate, or a low level of disturbance.

4.         Determine the components of the plan in question that may affect the key environmental conditions that need to be maintained.

5.         When collating the other plans and projects that need to be considered for the ‘in combination’ assessment start by considering the key environmental factors supporting site viability and identifying those other plans and projects that may influence this.

6.         Where likely significant adverse effects are identified recommend changes to the plan to avoid or mitigate against these.

7.         Flexibility in the planning system for interpretation at the project level is not directly provided for under the Habitats Directive. Therefore, it is important to first ensure that all legally binding aspects of the plan are assessed and associated impacts are avoided or mitigated. Where there are uncertainties relating to implementation at the project level, first attempt to minimise risk by including guiding criteria in the plan. Secondly to deal with any outstanding uncertainties, include information and recommendations for the permitting authorities (for example: in the planning document or implementation document) to investigate before consent for a particular project is given and make it clear that any activity that damages Natura 2000 sites is not in conformity with the plan.