Action: The role of relevant authorities in SAC management

Management schemes provide a framework within which activities will be managed, either voluntarily or through regulation, in order to achieve the conservation objectives of the European marine site. In light of the identification of operations that may cause deterioration or disturbance to the interest features of the site and the evaluation of existing use, the management group should develop a strategy for meeting the conservation objectives.

In many cases it may not be necessary to regulate, with action being applied on voluntary basis in some cases and in others action may be simply to endorse the status quo. It has long been established that the relevant authorities shall not have new powers. Where new regulation is needed the measures may be based entirely on upon the existing powers of the relevant authorities if they are capable of being used to achieve the objectives of designation. However, in other cases, relevant authorities may need to seek changes to the ways in which their existing statutory jurisdiction is applied using the established procedures for that purpose. This is the case for harbour authorities who need to apply for new powers by means of a Harbour Revision Order (HRO) under the Harbours Act 1964.

It is important to note that the responsibilities and consequent liabilities of relevant authorities are not combined under a management scheme. The main purpose of the management group must, therefore, be to assign any sphere of activity to one or more relevant authorities. The process of assigning activities, comparing information and monitoring feedback allows relevant authorities to develop consensus and consistency, and to address any conflicts without the need to resort to a legalistic process. Under the Habitats Regulations the country conservation agencies have powers to act where there is no other relevant authority or where the relevant authority is unable to act for legal or practical reasons.

Having been assigned a sphere of activity by the management group, the decision on the action required is the responsibility of the relevant authorities concerned. That relevant authority will inform and consult with the management group over the action it proposes to take (or not to take), however the management group has no authority to approve or disapprove of that action. A main function of the management scheme is to build consensus between relevant authorities. There are express powers of intervention given to Ministers in cases when it becomes clear that local liaison, co-ordination and consultation is inadequate, if there are undue delays or if the conservation objectives for the site are not being achieved. In addition to helping to resolve these local issues, Government support may also give greater weight to the enforcement of byelaws identified as being relevant to the scheme of management.

Therefore, in undertaking the challenge of setting up and implementing a management scheme and in considering the operation of relevant authorities within the context of a scheme, there are a number of essential requirements:

The management scheme should find ways of fulfilling the obligations of the relevant authorities that do not conflict with their core operations, especially those that are also statutory duties. The management scheme should also seek ways of fulfilling the obligations of those relevant authorities that are also commercial organisations that do not put them at a competitive disadvantage.

Clear, specific conservation objectives that are quantified where possible and good advice on operations which may cause deterioration or disturbance are required. This advice is currently being devised by the country conservation agencies, as described above.

Responsibilities of relevant authorities need to be explicit and additional duties need to be funded.

Next section