Letter: Legal measures to protect SSSIs

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The Independent Online
Sir: In proposing a new 'watchdog organisation' to increase the security of Sites of Special Scientific Interest through invoking European Community law, Carol Hatton (Letters, 10 August) overlooks a fundamental distinction between European and British environmental legislation.

European legislation requires the British government to take 'requisite measures' to conserve nature 'at a level which corresponds to ecological, scientific and cultural requirements, while taking account of economic and recreational requirements'. Thus, where the interests of conservation are in competition with those of alternative land uses, the Government is required to come to a balanced decision.

The same does not hold good for SSSIs, for the requirement placed on the Nature Conservancy Council and its successor bodies by British domestic legislation is very different. These bodies cannot take a balanced view in a broad socio-economic context, for their remit requires them to notify SSSIs wherever there is a scientific interest that they consider to be special. In deciding to notify an SSSI, no other consideration is relevant.

There is little justification for the assumption that European law requires that SSSI notification per se should override the planning process, and there can be no justification for a claim that in Britain the planning process so neglects environmental matters as to conflict with the spirit of European legislation. It is, therefore, difficult to envisage what functions the proposed 'watchdog organisation' would perform, and what advantages it would yield to nature conservation.

Yours faithfully,

GEORGE P. BLACK

Newbury, Berkshire

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