Examination of Witnesses (Questions 580
WEDNESDAY 28 MARCH 2001
580. You are able to prove that with facts and
(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
(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.
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
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
Mr Donohoe: Do they affect the competitiveness
of the British ports?
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.
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 Kingdomit 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
(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.
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.
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.
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