Existing regulations for dredging and disposal

Internationally, more attention is being given to the importance of maintaining and protecting the marine and coastal environment. Regulation of activities involving dredging and disposal is a key element in achieving these goals. In the UK, such legislation has arisen largely from European and International Conventions. The majority of port undertakings, including maintenance dredging, are administered by statutory harbour authorities who are each governed by their own legislation tailored to the needs of each port (DoE 1995). The regulatory framework listed below provides for proper assessment of the potential effects of marine dredging and disposal on navigation and the environment are made and that measures are taken to minimise any adverse environmental effects where the impact is likely to be significant.

List of legislation affecting dredging and disposal activities

  • Coast Protection Act 1949.
  • Conservation (Natural Habitats & c) Regulations 1994.
  • Deposits in the Sea (Exemptions) Order 1985.
  • Environment Act 1995.
  • Environmental Protection Act 1990.
  • Food & Environment Protection Act 1985 (FEPA).
  • Harbours Act 1964.
  • Harbour Works (Assessment of Environmental Effects) Regulations 1998.
  • Harbour Works (Assessment of Environmental Effects) (Amendment) Regulations 1996.
  • Landfill Tax Regulations 1996.
  • Waste Management Licensing Regulations 1994.
  • Various local harbour powers.

FEPA 1985 meets the requirements of the London Convention 1972 and the OSPAR Convention 1992 in so far as they relate to disposal of waste at sea.

The regulator of the disposal of dredgings in England and Wales is MAFF, in Scotland it is the SOAEFD and in Northern Ireland it is the Department of the Environment for Northern Ireland (DOE(NI)). In order to dispose of dredged material in the sea a FEPA disposal licence is normally required from these regulatory bodies. The environment agencies regulate applications for waste disposal licenses for contaminated dredged material to landfill. Consent is also required from DETR Ports Division for certain marine works, including maintenance dredging and disposal, with implications on the provision of safety of navigation, under the Coast Protection Act 1949. However dredging activities in enclosed areas which exclude the tide, dredging under local Acts or dredging to remove anything causing obstruction or danger to navigation are exempt from obtaining this consent from DETR under Regulation 35.

As scientific knowledge advances and in response to new and revised legislation there will be some changes in the work required in order to obtain a licence for disposal. The consent procedure is often facilitated if detailed assessments of the effect of the disposal of dredged material including potential beneficial uses have already been carried out. Most of these issues need to be addressed irrespective of whether the dredging operation is within an SAC.

Within marine SACs the renewal of licences for the disposal of maintenance dredgings, should be relatively straightforward provided that adequate information is provided in line with government guidance. In general, maintenance dredging has been carried out within ports, harbours and estuaries over several years if not decades and is in essence an intimate part of the sediment regime and dynamics of an area. It is widely acknowledged that there are gaps in the scientific understanding of hydrodynamics and sediment transport and therefore in some cases a monitoring programme may be required to establish that disposal has not caused unforeseen problems.

It is generally viewed that the existing regulations and controls (see above and Appendix) provide the most suitable route to account for maintenance dredging within SAC management schemes. Certain methods of dredging operate by throwing material into suspension in the water column. As these methods do not involve disposal, they therefore fall outside the MAFF licensing process, and are regulated by the harbour authority.

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