Habitats Regulations Appraisal (HRA)

This precautionary, rigorous and legally binding procedure protects Scotland‘s internationally important sites.

Under the Habitats Regulations, all competent authorities must consider whether any plan or project will have a ‘likely significant effect’ on a European site. If so, they must carry out an ‘appropriate assessment’ (AA). This is known as Habitats Regulations Appraisal (HRA).

A competent authority must not authorise a plan or project unless it can show beyond reasonable scientific doubt – using appropriate assessment – that the plan or project will not adversely affect the integrity of a European site.

The competent authority must decide whether there‘s enough evidence to conclude that the proposals won’t have adverse effects on a European site’s integrity.

A competent authority may wish to consent a proposal despite the potential for an adverse effect on site integrity. Where this is the case, it must first show that there are no alternative solutions, and that it is imperative, and of overriding public interest to grant consent.

When does HRA apply?

Any plan or project that could affect a European site – no matter how far away it is – should be subject to HRA.

Competent authorities

The Habitats Regulations state that a competent authority "includes any Minister, government department, public or statutory undertaker, public body of any description, or person holding a public office”.

For example:

  • local authorities are competent authorities in regard to planning applications
  • Scottish Forestry is a competent authority for felling permissions
  • the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) is a competent authority for Controlled Activities Regulations (CAR) licences

Our role in HRA

The competent authority checks a plan or project for likely significant effects on the European site, often with advice from NatureScot.

Where an appropriate assessment is required, the competent authority must consult NatureScot.

Gathering information

An HRA must be:

  • reasoned and recorded throughout to provide an audit trail of the competent authority’s thinking
  • based on and supported by evidence capable of standing up to scientific scrutiny

There is no standard format for HRA evidence. The exact type of information required varies case by case but the competent authority must ensure the applicant provides sufficient information that definitive conclusions can be made.

A competent authority may not cite lack of information as reason to approve a plan or project.

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