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It is an issue of equity. There is a lesser duty on statutory undertakers who undertake works on SSSIs than there is on owner-occupiers who undertake works on SSSIs. The duty on the undertakers is to give written notice to English Nature or CCW before carrying out any operations likely to cause damage on an SSSI. In contrast, the duty on owners and occupiers under Section 28C(1) is to give written notice to English Nature or CCW before carrying out any operations specified in the notification.
Amendment No. 483 complements the early amendment to the proposed new Section 28F(1), relating to new Section 28E authorities that carry out work on or affecting SSSIs; in Section 28G(2) the focus is on the Section 28E authorities which authorise operations on or affecting SSSIs. I commend the amendments to the Committee.
Under the Bill as drafted, subsection (4) of new Section 28G would require any statutory body to wait for 28 days after consulting the council before issuing any permission. This 28-day delay must be respected, even if the council should inform the statuary body that it has no objection to the proposal in less than 28 days.
I submit that the purpose of this part of the Bill is not to introduce unnecessary delays into the administrative process but to ensure that the council is allowed ample time to formulate its response to a consultation.
My amendment would still defend the right of the council to take up to 28 days to respond, but it would also allow statutory bodies to issue permissions promptly if the council should respond more swiftly.
I turn to my Amendment No. 483B. The amendment seeks to make the Bill more efficient in its implementation. Subsections (1) to (6) of proposed new Section 28G require statutory bodies to consult the council before issuing any permissions relating to activities likely to harm the SSSI. These sections provide an important safeguard for SSSIs, and I welcome them.
Unfortunately, the process set out in new Section 28G is "blind". It requires consultation over all permissions, even where they relate to benign aspects of an activity. To take an example, the North Western and North Wales Sea Fisheries Committee issues approximately 60 authorisations a year to fishermen, enabling the use of metal stakes to secure nets on the shore anywhere in its district. This SFC has over 140 SSSIs within its district, and coastal fishing is listed as an,
As I read this part of the Bill, it is not intended to create unnecessary work for administrative bodies. It is intended to ensure that activities that pose a real threat to an SSSI are subject to scrutiny.
My amendment would allow the council and statutory bodies the option of agreeing to exempt certain permissions from the Section 28G consultation process. This will allow them to focus their energies on the permissions that do need to be scrutinised.
In suggesting the amendment, I have been mindful of the need to ensure that SSSIs are properly protected. The second part of my amendment requires any consultation agreements to be written down, and enables the council to call for the review of such agreements if it is concerned that exempted permissions might affect the SSSI. I commend the amendments to the Committee.
Baroness Young of Old Scone: Perhaps I may comment on Amendments Nos. 477 and 483 tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Byford. The noble Baroness's concern was that a more onerous requirement was being laid on owners and occupiers than on public authorities. It is almost the other way round; in fact, it is diametrically the other way round. The Bill places far more strenuous requirements on public authorities in terms of thinking more widely about operations which might damage an SSSI rather than the very limited list in the notification. It might even not be their activities on the SSSI, which is all that is specified by the notification. It could well be activities adjacent or in another place that would, for
Lord Whitty: We do not really believe that most of these amendments would add anything; indeed, they are probably unnecessary and could, in some cases, be counter productive. However, the one amendment that I should like to take away and reconsider is Amendment No. 483A, which deals with a body being able to authorise an operation before the expiry of 28 days. I can envisage situations where that might be helpful. I am grateful to the noble Baroness for bringing the matter to our attention. I can at least undertake that we shall seriously consider bringing forward an amendment at the next stage to meet that point.
Amendment No. 476B seeks to qualify the general duty imposed upon public bodies by expressly prohibiting the application of the duty as a means to require a statutory undertaker to remove or alter any apparatus, plant or whatever installed pursuant to its statutory obligations. This amendment is unnecessary because the duty imposed by new Section 28E--subsections (1) to (2)--is in the nature of a general duty consistent with the proper exercise of the statutory functions. It must, therefore, be consistent with the latter. Where a statutory undertaker has apparatus or equipment, as mentioned in this amendment, on an SSSI in pursuit of those functions, there will be no question of the undertaker being required to remove those items if they are there for that purpose.
Amendments Nos. 477 and 483 would require a public body to notify the conservation agency where it proposes to carry out an operation that is specified in an SSSI notification, or where it assesses the operation "may damage" the SSSI. I believe that the Bill, as drafted, already catches the operations listed within the notification. New Sections 28F and 28G are already drafted to catch both the operations likely to damage the site, and any activities that might take place off site but which might nevertheless have a detrimental effect on the SSSI.
However, the list provided with a notification--to which this amendment attempts to refer--is the list of operations that might be undertaken by an owner or occupier and for which he may be seeking consent. They are not targeted at all the operations that a public body might undertake either on or off the SSSI. Therefore, it would not be helpful to cross-refer to the list of operations relating to an owner or occupier.
In relation to the other parts of those amendments, I can offer reassurance that, as a matter of good administrative practice, the agencies already provide public bodies with copies of SSSI notifications. We recognise the importance of ensuring that they are fully aware of the location and nature of these important sites.
Amendment No. 483B provides an exemption from the Section 28G procedure where the conservation body and the public body enter into a written agreement. I understand the motivation behind the amendment; namely, to avoid multiple consultations and unnecessary bureaucracy. It would be sensible for public bodies that regularly undertake particular activities on or affecting SSSIs to draw up in advance the terms under which they will operate a number of those operations. However, the terms of the amendment reinforce my concerns about tying public bodies to the operations likely to damage list which applies to owners and occupiers. That might actually preclude the public body and the agency from reaching an understanding covering particular activities that might be assessed as operations that are not likely to damage.
Therefore I think that it would be sensible for the agency and the public bodies to behave in the way that the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, seeks. But this amendment would preclude them from doing so by cross-reference to a list which is not appropriate in those circumstances. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, will not press his amendment, and that I have explained my position on the other amendments in the group.
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