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Section 3. Assessments and Permits

Large scale or more complex developments often have to be supported by assessments that show what the impact of the development proposals would be on the local natural and man-made environment. Such assessments supplement the relevant consent application and the cost will need to be met by the applicant. Please also see the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) Guidance on Assessments. Developers must also factor in sufficient time for these assessments to be made and must be prepared for conditions to be attached to the consents if granted where an issue has been raised.  For example, work may only be allowed at certain times of the year to prevent disturbance of nesting birds or migrating fish. This page reviews the following commonly required assessments:

  1. Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) - issued by the  Marine Management Organisation (waterside) or local planning authority (shoreside)
  2. Habitats Regulations Assessment (HRA) - issued by the competent authority (normally Marine Management Organisation or local planning authority)
  3. Water Framework Directive (WFD) - issued by the Environment Agency
  4. Flood Risk Assessment (FRA) - issued by the Environment Agency
  5. Environmental Permits - issued by the Environment Agency

1. Environmental Impact Assessment

Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) are a way of determining, in a systematic way, a projects likely significant environmental effects. They are required under Council Directive 85/336/EC, more commonly known as the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive or EIA Directive. The Marine Works (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations 2007 (as amended) puts into practice the EIA Directive in relation to marine licences.

Typical types of development that require an EIA are:

An EIA is a multi-stage process. It begins with a screening process which decides whether an EIA is required. For marine works it is the MMO, in consultation with its statutory consultees, that decides whether an EIA is required and they will base their opinion on a report prepared by the applicant. This report should contain a plan showing the proposed location of the development, a brief description of the nature, purpose and size of the proposal and an indication of its possible environmental effects. All screening opinions are published on a public register along with any reports the applicant provides to inform the assessments. Looking at this register is also a useful way for an applicant to view past EIA submissions. For shoreside developments it is the local planning authority (LPA) that will decide the need for an EIA (in consultation with statutory consultees). Where the development crosses the land/sea boundary the MMO and the LPA will decide who will be the 'lead authority' to process the application. This will depend on the exact nature of the development. The Environmental Statement is the concluding information from the EIA which is put forward by the applicant in conjunction with application for planning permission/Marine Licence for the project. 

When working with other authorities, the MMO follows the principles of the coastal concordat.

2. Habitats Regulations Assessment and Appropriate Assessment

A Habitats Regulation Assessment (HRA) is carried out for a development which is within or adjacent to a protected site. This assessment is a formal way of applying the Habitat Regulations to a development. As part of the HRA process, an Appropriate Assessment (AA) will be required if Natural England or the Environment Agency believe that the proposals are likely to have a Significant Effect upon the site’s features. An AA may also be required even if the proposals are not located within a European Site but are still likely to impact upon it. An AA is a specific part of the HRA and is a way of appraising the potential effects of a plan or a project on European Sites (Special Protection Areas (SPA), Special Area for Conservation (SAC) or proposed SPAs and Ramsar sites), or in an area recognised as important for marine species such as seals and cetaceans. 

There is an onus on the applicant to contact Natural England to check that their proposals will not have a significant effect on a European Marine Site even if it is considered to be permitted development. Please read Natural England's Guidance Note  on European Protected Species and the Planning Process for detailed information on this topic. Your local planning authority will be able to advise as to whether your plans are considered permitted development.

The Infrastructure Planning Commission has produced a Guidance Note on HRAs for developers wishing to undertake large scale developments.

What about Fishing Activities

Fishing activity in Marine Protected Areas (MPA) is managed and monitored through a separate process. To understand what impact fishing activity is having on an MPA, an MPA assessment is completed. It provides information on the MPA designated feature(s), details of what fishing activity takes places within the area and the impact of this activity on the site feature(s).

Maintenance Dredge Protocol

The Maintenance Dredge Protocol was established by Defra to provide a mechanism for assessing the potential impacts of maintenance dredging upon European Sites (SAC, SPA and/or Ramsar sites). The Protocol recommends the preparation of a ‘Baseline Document’, which will use existing information to describe the current and historical patterns of dredging in relation to the conservation status of European sites. The Baseline Document should cover all maintenance dredging within a single estuary or appropriate unit of area.

The Baseline Document is prepared and primarily kept up to date by the Statutory Harbour/port/navigation Authority(s) in the area covered by the document, with assistance from those ports, berth operators and marinas wishing to undertake or commission maintenance dredging operations. In the Solent, most of the harbours and ports are either working on, or have completed their baseline documents. Natural England contributes to the initial drafting and periodic review of baseline documents and all subsequent effect/impact assessments undertaken in light of information contained within them. If Natural England is satisfied with the document’s conclusions then it will formally endorse the document.

Where dredging proposals fit within the tolerance range described and defined within the baseline document, a standard consideration letter will be issued by Natural England and it should be possible for the MMO to determine a consent in the knowledge that there will not be an adverse affect. The tolerance range is set by Natural England. However, where the scale of dredging departs significantly from the tolerance range described in the document, Natural England may ask the applicant to give additional consideration to the possible effects of the proposed dredge and it may require an Appropriate Assessment.

This Protocol only applies to the process of dredging and not the subsequent disposal of spoil.

Ecological Impact Assessment (EcIA)

The Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM) has developed Guidelines to promote good practice in Ecological Impact Assessment (EcIA) relating to terrestrial, freshwater and coastal environments (to the mean low water mark) in the UK. EcIA is a process of identifying, quantifying and evaluating potential effects of development-related or other proposed actions on habitats, species and ecosystems. The findings of an assessment can help competent authorities understand ecological issues when determining applications for consent. EcIA can be used for the appraisal of projects of any scale including the ecological component of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). When undertaken as part of an EIA, EcIA is subject to the relevant EIA Regulations. However unlike EIA, EcIA on its own is not a statutory requirement. It is a best practice evaluation process undertaken to support a range of assessments.

3. Flood Risk Assessment

Where a development is proposed within an area shown to be located within a flood risk zone a Flood Risk Assessment (FRA) will need to be submitted with the planning application.  FRAs are only required under national planning policy where development is located within:

For advice related to an FRA for a planning application or marine licence, please contact: Sustainable Places, Environment Agency – Solent & South Downs, email:

If it is related to an FRA for an Environmental permit for flood risk activity, please contact: Hampshire & Isle of Wight Partnerships & Strategic Overview, Environment Agency – Solent & South Downs, email:

The Environment Agency's flood maps for planning can be used by the public to identify whether a site is located within a flood risk area.

4. Water Framework Directive Assessment

The EC Water Framework Directive (WFD), which came into force on 22 December 2000, established an integrated approach to the protection, improvement and sustainable use of Europe's rivers, lakes, estuaries, coastal waters and groundwater. It introduced new, broader ecological objectives, designed to protect and, where necessary, restore the structure and function of aquatic ecosystems. It is implemented by the Environment Agency.

The Environment Agency has produced guidance on how to assess the impact of your activity in estuarine (transitional) and coastal waters for the Water Framework Directive (WFD). The guidance is called Clearing the Waters for All.

The Directive also introduced a river basin management planning system which is a mechanism for ensuring the integrated management of: groundwater; rivers; canals; lakes; reservoirs; estuaries and other brackish waters; coastal waters; and the water needs of terrestrial ecosystems that depend on groundwater, such as wetlands. The Solent lies within the South East River Basin Management Plan.

5. Environmental Permits

You may need an environmental permit if you discharge liquid effluent or waste water (poisonous, noxious or polluting matter, waste matter, or trade or sewage effluent): into surface waters, for example, rivers, streams, estuaries, lakes, canals or coastal waters (known as water discharge activities). You need to apply to the Environment Agency for a permit for any standalone water discharge or groundwater activity - standalone means the activity is not part of a waste operation, installation or mining waste operation. Defra and the Environment Agency have produced Guidance that shows you what to do if you need to change, transfer or cancel your environmental permit.

Case Study: Pipelines

Pipelines may be constructed in the marine area for many different reasons including on behalf of water utility companies, as part of energy generation activities and industrial developments.

When a developer obtains a marine licence they may still need to separately apply for consent from other parts of government. Other relevant agencies could include the Crown Estate, as the owners of the seabed and the Environment Agency, whose remit includes water quality permits.

If the pipeline is constructed in a Marine Protected Area this would need to be in line with the guidance and features of the site, and these factors would be considered during any consent application process. Natural England will be able to give further advice.

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