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The purpose of the Habitats and Wild Birds Directives is to restore and maintain Europe’s biodiversity by protecting its most important habitats and species. This is achieved, in part, through the designation of protected sites.
Normally, competent authorities cannot consent to plans or projects without first having ascertained that they will not have an “adverse effect on the integrity of a European site” (AEoI) following such an assessment.
Article 6(4) of the Habitats Directive provides a derogation which would allow a plan or project to be approved in limited circumstances even though it would or may have an AEoI on a European site. Article 6(4) applies to sites protected under both the Habitats and Wild Birds Directives.
Under article 6(4) a plan or project can only proceed provided three sequential tests are met:
There must be no feasible alternative solutions to the plan or project which are less damaging to the affected European site(s)
There must be “imperative reasons of overriding public interest” (IROPI) for the plan or project to proceed
All necessary compensatory measures must be secured to ensure that the overall coherence of the network of European sites is protected.
This document provides guidance on how these tests should be applied in England and UK offshore waters (except in relation to functions exercised by devolved authorities).