What is a Habitat Regulation Assessment?

To protect the natural habitats of animals and plant life across Europe, the European Union introduced the Habitats Directive. This effectively set up a network of areas protected by the government with the sole purpose of protecting European protected species and European sites. If someone was wanting to build anything from a water fountain to a large building on such a site, they would have to pass an assessment. 

A Habitat Regulation Assessment is a mandatory series of checks that determine the possibility and severity of risks that submitted development plans may pose to European sites and their protected natural elements. Recognised sites are protected through the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 throughout the UK. 

European sites are categorised into two classifications: Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) and Special Protection Areas (SPA). If you plan to make alterations or development to any of these areas, then you take on the responsibility of preserving its protected subjects and must pass an HRA. 

If you wish to build on a protected site, you must research the exact assets protected. SAC covers wildlife and flora, whereas SPA protects birds. HRAs is a process that consists of three stages. Only the completion of one is required, but each step is more complicated by design than the last. The first two are a series of checks that explore the possibility of damage to the area. The last is a three-stage process in which damage is almost certainly going to occur, and what can be done about it providing it’s important enough to be built. 

Who carries out HRAs? 

HRAs were once the domain of the European Commission, even within the borders of the UK. After Brexit, however, a new bill regarding the EU’s involvement with protected UK sites was passed, transporting the responsibility of carrying out these checks to a list of officials categorised as “Local Authorities”. These local authorities consist of:

  • a public body, such as a local planning authority
  • a statutory undertaker 
  • a minister or department of government
  • anyone holding public office, such as an ombudsman

As you can see, this is all very official and needs to be taken seriously. The most successful development proposals look to engage the services of experienced consultants to help them navigate through any surveys and planning issues. Indigo Surveys have ten-plus years of history in all forms of surveying, and we pride ourselves on our long-standing customer service. Contact us to get your free survey quote today. 

Your plan will be passed on to your local authority, who will then initiate the assessment. HRAs are split into three steps: the screening of the proposal, the appropriate assessment, and the derogation. 

The three stages, respectively, determine if the risk of damage to the European site exists, how bad that risk could be paired with the steps you’re willing to take to mitigate them, and if any exceptions should be allowed.


local_floraWhat is an HRA Screening?

The HRA screening is a series of checks to determine whether a risk (a significant effect) to the conservation site may exist through proceeding with the proposal. 

If it can be proven beyond reasonable doubt that the project or plan will not impact the protected features of the site under any circumstances, then the three-stage process will end on this first one. Similarly, if the instalment of your project is intended to help with the conservation of the site, you will pass the HRA. 

Ultimately, the significance of the “significant effect” is results that invalidate the protection of the selected animals/fauna in the area. But your project alone is not all that is considered in the screening, other projects and plans are. Or rather, the combination of your and other people’s ongoing developments. So even if your proposal was innocent of any harm, it could still be thrown out if the co-existence of several brings harm to the surrounding area. Researching what your fellow developers have proposed or created is key to passing the HRA. 

Indigo Surveys makes it a point to outline the best possible evidence and formulate an overall strategy for the proposal to end the HRA at this early first stage, cutting the process into a fraction of its maximum longevity. We provide Topographical Surveys, Tree Surveys, Ecology Surveys, Habitat Assessments, Arboricultural Assessments, Measured Surveys, Protected Species Surveys, Tree Reports and more.

If what you have submitted cannot be cleared of suspected risk, then it will move on to the second stage, the Appropriate Assessment. 

What is an Appropriate Assessment?

An Appropriate Assessment is an expanded series of viability checks accompanying an integrity test, which will assess the maximum and minimum risk that a development plan will pose to a European site, as well as what the proposer is willing to do to lower said risk. 

This stage is arguably the most complicated, making it quite difficult to succeed without proper consultancy. Indigo Surveys pride itself on our relationship with our customers, making sure all of our quotes are highly competitive. We ensure that our customers are given accurate quotes up front, with no surprise costs or delays. We also offer a premium service. 

The integrity test considers the exact effects that the initiation and completion of the proposal will have on the site. It’s recommended to list each potential effect the development will have on the site, including those that are benign, and most definitely those that are common. 

Another requirement is for the proposal to state, on record, how high a risk the development would have on a site, as well as any mitigations that might be put in place to prevent or eliminate this possibility. We have a team of expert and experienced consultants on hand to help you formulate a strategy to present to the local authority. This strategy will outline what mitigations you’re planning to put in place.  

One such example of mitigation might be if your site was to be a place of business revolving around the manufacturing of tools and equipment, the noise might bother the birds and wildlife that have resided in the area for years. This would be a violation of the protection that is afforded to the animals there. However, this damning black spot on your proposal can be mitigated by signing a promise to reduce the noise by having the place of business soundproofed. This would negate, or heavily decrease, the potential noise impact. The more you can convince the authorities of this mitigation working, the more likely they are to allow the proposal.

If mitigations are put in place, you will also be expected to write up a plan on how you’ll manage the mitigations and ensure their correction. For example, it’s not enough to have dimmer lights on your building so as not to scare the wildlife, the lights must be checked regularly, with immediate plans in place to deal with faults in the plan should they arise. If any plans are made that are later found to be unnecessary, or at least overkill, there can be changes made to the mitigation plan. 

If this stage is to similarly fail, then you will be required to move on to the third and final one, the derogation. 

What is Derogation?

A derogation checks the grounds on which a project will be given an exception despite the perceived risk of damage to the site. Derogations are only handed out if the proposal passes the following three legal tests, however. 

The first test will determine whether it’s possible to reduce harm by changing the qualities of the proposal, such as scale, design, location or even the timing of its construction, and reduce risk. If it’s a foundation based on the evidence and plans you have submitted that you can build your proposal away from the protected site, for example, you will fail. 

The second test of three is the justification test, which requires you to prove that the possible damage to the area is justified in some way. For example, if you are building something imperative for the public interest’s sake, such as a base that would greatly improve the overall health of humanity in the local area. 

The third test, the compensatory stage, will revolve around how you plan to offset the damages caused by your actions within the European site, providing you pass the previous two. This will revolve around replacing the damaged assets of the zone, for example, the relocation and assured sustenance of protected animals. 

Again, failing any of these tests will result in the third stage, and the HRA as a whole, failing and your proposal being rejected. Should you pass all three, then you will succeed through derogation, and you will be required to notify the relevant secretary of state before going ahead with your plans. 

This notification should include a summarisation of the proposal and the specification of what site(s) are affected. You will also need to state what stage of the HRA you got to and their decision. If you got through the derogation stage, you will need to give a detailed description of how you passed the three tests. 

For help and advice regarding Habitat Regulations Assessment guidance, contact our team today.


Andrew Turnbull

As a co-Director of this multidisciplinary company, Andrew handles various responsibilities related to business management, administration, and operations. His role involves tasks such as overseeing company structure and policies, managing creational control, handling marketing and events, engaging with clients, preparing quotations, managing contracts, coordinating with sub-contractors, and providing arboricultural consultancy.