New coastal development projects will need to consider Marine Conservation Zones

Earlier this year 41 new Marine Conservation Zones (MCZ) were created, taking the total to 91.  MCZ are intended to protect the diverse species and habitats in the “blue belt” around the English coast.

New MCZ designated in the South West include the Helford, Camel and Dart Estuaries.  In addition new features have been added to some existing MCZ, e.g. Torbay.

Orders relating to these MCZ set out the features that are protected, either species or habitats (e.g. for the Dart Estuary, these include: the tentacled lagoon-worm and estuarine rocky habitats).  The orders also set out the conservation objectives for those features (e.g. that the protected feature is brought into and remains in a favourable condition by ensuring that the species population is maintained in numbers which enable it to thrive, and that the extent of a habitat is stable or increasing, and that the habitat is healthy and not deteriorating).

In previous issues of Tide we have looked at marine planning, and that a marine licence is required for certain development and activities which take place below the mean high water spring mark.  The effect of the proposed development on these MCZ protected features are relevant to determining whether a licence will be granted.

Where an application can demonstrate that there is no significant risk of it hindering the conservation objectives, then the application can continue.

However, where it is not possible to satisfy the MMO[1] of that, a licence can only be granted if:

(a)     There is no other means of proceeding which would create a substantially lower risk of hindering the achievement of those objectives

(b)     The benefit to the public of proceeding clearly outweighs the risk of damage to the environment that will be created, and

(c)     The person seeking the authorisation will provide measures of equivalent environmental benefit to the damage caused to the MCZ.

It is essential that anyone considering making an application for a licence for coastal works or activities in the vicinity of an MCZ seeks expert advice on the effect on the MCZ, and how to mitigate any harm to the protected features, at an early stage in the process.

[1] (This also applies where development in the Planning Authority’s jurisdiction (above MLWS) affects the MCZ).