Scope and fundamental principles of the assessment framework
The assessment framework for activities in the North Sea applies to all activities for which a permit is required under the laws and regulations applicable to the North Sea in territorial waters and the EEZ insofar as this pertains to aspects affecting the North Sea’s water system. The assessment framework for the Nature Conservancy Act has been integrated into this to the fullest extent possible. Activities for which a permit is required are also taken to include existing usage for which a permit is being extended or increased in scope.
In the case of uses for which a permit is not required (shipping, a proportion of military use, and recreation), the aspects of the framework of assessment will only become relevant when policy is revised or new policy is introduced.
Another exception concerns fishing activities in the EEZ. The European Union’s Common Fisheries Policy regulates this.
When assessing the permissibility of an economic activity, a set procedure is followed. The following aspects are taken into consideration: the spatial planning aspects, safety, and the effects in ecological and environmental terms. This may result in conditions and restrictions being applied to a permit. When working through the assessment framework, another factor subject to scrutiny is whether or not the activity will fulfil the objective of the MSFD, namely to achieve or maintain a good environmental status by 2020. Important in this respect are the precautionary principle and the use of the ecosystem approach.
Status and application of the assessment framework
The assessment framework is a policy regulation and obliges the competent authority to act in accordance with this framework when issuing permits. As such, the assessment framework is chiefly of importance to permit authorities and users of the North Sea wishing to apply for a apply for a permit based on the Water Act, the Earth Removal Act, the Nature Conservation Act, the Flora and Fauna Act, the Environmental Permitting (General Provisions) Act, a number of shipping laws, and the Mining Act. The policy regulation is applied by the competent authorities, viz. Rijkswaterstaat (on behalf of the Minister for Infrastructure and the Environment) and the Minister for Economic Affairs. The assessment framework as described here will supersede the assessment framework of the revised Integrated Management Plan for the North Sea (IBN) 2015.
Relationship with Nature Conservancy Act and Flora and Fauna Act
As stated, the assessment framework also applies to activities that, under the Nature Conservancy Act and Flora and Fauna Act, require a permit or exemption respectively. This is the case where:
- activities may have significant adverse effects on a Natura 2000 area; or
- activities may have effects (disturbing, catching, killing) on protected native species of plant or animal; or
- activities will damage, destroy or disturb breeding grounds, resting sites or sites inhabited by these species.
Activities do not require a permit under the Nature Conservancy Act if a permit is issued or will be issued under other laws and with due regard for Article 6, paragraphs 3 and 4 of Council Directive 92/43/EEC (this only applies to activities in the EEZ) or the activities engaged in within the Natura 2000 area have already been assessed and enshrined in the management plan for the relevant area.
If it is impossible to rule out the possibility of a plan or project having significant effects, then the Nature Conservancy Act requires a so-called ADC test to be carried out. This test makes it possible to grant permission for plans or projects that, in the absence of alternative solutions, do have to be implemented for pressing reasons of overriding public interest. In such cases, permission is granted on the proviso that the initiator takes all necessary compensatory measures to guarantee that the overall consistency of Natura 2000 continues to be preserved.
- General: Within the European and international frameworks (Water Framework Directive, Marine Strategy Framework Directive, the Birds and Habitats Directives and the Malta Convention), the Cabinet is giving priority to activities of national interest: shipping, oil and gas extraction, CO2 storage, generation of sustainable (wind) energy, sand extraction and replenishment, and defence. Multiple use of space is encouraged to the fullest extent possible.
- Room for experimentation: The Central Government can designate an area and, if possible, temporarily deviate from this assessment framework for experiments aimed at bolstering the sustainable development of the North Sea in the longer term. The permit authority will set conditions and/or restrictions to ensure that the experiment does not endanger the safety of other existing uses. Adverse effects on other forms of use must be kept within reasonable limits.
Documents and publications