Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 580 - 599)

WEDNESDAY 28 MARCH 2001

DR ANDREW BROWN, MR ROGER MORRIS, DR MARK AVERY AND DR DUNCAN HUGGETT

  580. You are able to prove that with facts and figures?
  (Dr Huggett) I can provide the Committee with press releases from those who are making the accusation.

  581. Forgive me but if we took press notices from people who make accusations, this Committee would have an enormous amount of paper to deal with which would be very environmentally unfriendly.
  (Dr Huggett) I could e-mail it to you.

  Chairman: As long as it is factual, we will read it. If it is not, we may e-mail it back to you.

Mr Donohoe

  582. We were trying to identify a port that was three times more environmentally sound than any of ours. In Europe, if you were to do a league table, where would the United Kingdom ports be?
  (Dr Huggett) My understanding is that the United Kingdom ports in terms of north European container ports are quite competitive.

  583. If you take the Directive that there is from Europe in terms of birds and habitats and look at the interpretation of that, is it being interpreted differently in other countries and is it to the commercial benefit or detriment of our ports in the United Kingdom?
  (Dr Brown) There is increasing evidence that the Habitats Directive is being interpreted and dealt with differently amongst Member States.

Chairman

  584. That is very unusual.
  (Dr Brown) It has only become apparent in the last year or so. When Member States were preparing their lists of sites to put to the Commission, they were very reluctant to release the information and share it with others. Because of the process that we have to go through in Europe to get the list of sites finally agreed, that information is now increasingly in the public domain. We can now all look at how other Member States are treating estuary systems and how they are defining boundaries for sites and how they are interpreting different parts of the Directive. I think there is a need for English Nature and government to explore rather more fully what these differences are amongst Member States and try to understand why there are differences.

  585. Are they tougher or weaker?
  (Dr Brown) At this stage, all I could say is they are different.

  Mr Donohoe: Do they affect the competitiveness of the British ports?

Chairman

  586. Is somewhere like Barcelona, which is about to double its container size, on the list?
  (Dr Brown) There are fears amongst the port operators that they are going to be at a disadvantage because of the way the Directive has been interpreted.

  587. Do you think that is so?
  (Dr Brown) No, not at this stage.

  588. Why not?
  (Dr Brown) If I could give you one example, there are concerns about the fact that, in a number of European estuaries, the navigation channel has been omitted from the candidate SAC. In the United Kingdom, we have not done that; we have included it within the SAC. Purely on ecological grounds, if you are protecting an estuary system, you ought to identify the boundaries of the system as far as you are able. The ports fear that the inclusion of a navigation channel will put them at a disadvantage because they have to go through various requirements in our Habitat Regulations to do with dredging. Our argument would be that, in other Member States where they left it out, they still have to go through those appropriate assessment type procedures, because—

  589. But not to the main channel that they need for a particular port.
  (Dr Brown) My understanding is that they would have to do it even in relation to the main channel.

  590. Why do you think that if they are excluding the navigation channel?
  (Dr Brown) Because what happens in that channel may well have an impact on the rest of the site.

Mr Donohoe

  591. Do you not think this is going to lead substantially to a fall out between yourselves and the port authorities and perhaps even a wider population when it has been explained to them? You heard from Mr Bennett what he was saying earlier in that connection. What is the problem in terms of what we have identified in our visits? You are going to be set up and become unpopular on the basis of asking for far too much.
  (Dr Brown) It certainly sometimes feels like that.

  592. To an individual like me, it seems like that all the time.
  (Dr Brown) What we will seek to do is, first of all, work with the ports authorities and the trade associations to try and understand the situation in other Member States. We actually need to go and investigate what were their arguments for leaving out navigation channels. Are they based on science or are they based on socio-economic issues?

  593. You are the expert. Surely, on the basis of a bit of practical common sense, if you designate the whole of an estuary and every port in the United Kingdom—it seems that every estuary has been virtually completely wiped out for any expansion of any description of any development of any description on the basis of this Directive. That is wrong, surely, against what has been said by Mr Bennett about the fact that ports are environmentally friendly as a way to move goods around about the world.
  (Dr Brown) I would not accept your suggestion that the designation prevents any port development or expansion. The Habitats Directive is very clear in setting out the idea that what it is there to do is to ensure development within or near these sites is done in a way which is environmentally sustainable.

Chairman

  594. Why did they leave the channels out?
  (Dr Brown) I do not know. That is why we propose to go and find out from other Member States.

Mr Bennett

  595. Given that Britain was threatened with infraction proceedings because we had not designated enough maritime Atlantic habitats, is it not logical that by putting those areas in we have been able to designate bigger areas than some of the European ports which must have been forced to look for greater areas of land or tidal flats to the United Kingdom?
  (Dr Brown) Virtually all Member States were asked to find more sites. I do not have available information which compares whether some Member States were asked to find more terrestrial sites or more coastal sites, but we can certainly examine that information in due course.

  596. Where are we up to with those negotiations? When are they to be complete?
  (Dr Brown) The second moderation meeting for the Atlantic biogeographic region is in October.

  597. At that, are we going to have sufficient sites, in your view, to meet those requirements?
  (Dr Brown) I believe we will.

  598. Are we then going to have sufficient resources to look after the sites that are designated or is there not a danger that we will designate lots of sites and not have the money to look after them?
  (Dr Brown) Our estimates are that we will need more resources to look after these sites effectively.

Mr Donohoe

  599. Dr Avery, if we look at the Humber and we say that there is going to be a development, surely you should be restricted to say, "But hold on, you are going to affect the birds in this area and there is going to be a reduction in the birds" and it is for others to determine whether or not the birds are going to move on maybe half a mile but they are not going under any circumstances to be in any danger of removing themselves from the list of species that there are in the United Kingdom. I think we are going too far. Do you not think there is some argument on the basis of what I am saying?
  (Dr Avery) As far as I am aware, there has been no major proposal for port development in the United Kingdom that has been stopped by European legislation. The industry tends to emphasise how difficult life is but it is difficult to see—


 
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