Section 15 Consent by certain regulatory authorities
106.Section 15 sets out the procedures to be followed where the permission of a relevant regulatory authority is needed before an operation affecting an SSSI may be carried out. Relevant regulatory authorities are to be defined for the purposes of the Act in a separate order made by the Scottish Ministers. It is not intended that planning authorities should be treated as regulatory authorities in this context, since statutory requirements for planning authorities to consult SNH in relation to planning applications already exist separately in planning legislation.
107.Subsection (3) requires a relevant regulatory authority to notify SNH before deciding whether to permit any operation which would be likely to damage a natural feature specified in an SSSI notification. Such notification to SNH must specify the nature of the operation, the proposed dates of commencement and completion, as well as the land on which it is proposed to carry out the operation.
108.Subsection (4) specifies that the obligation to consult SNH applies even if the proposed operation would take place outwith the land of an SSSI. As with section 13(2), what matters is whether the operation would be likely to damage the site, not where it is taking place. Again, the Act places a special responsibility on regulators as public bodies to anticipate and assess potential risks to SSSI land in a pro-active sense and, where they are public bodies, in accordance with the general duty set out in section 12.
109.Subsection (5) prohibits the authority from deciding whether to give its permission until 28 days have elapsed from the date of the notification to SNH under subsection (2) unless SNH has notified the authority that it does not need to wait until then. This provision is intended to ensure that SNH has sufficient time to provide advice, without unnecessarily delaying a decision if one can be taken quickly. For its part, SNH will require to be sensitive to the needs of regulators, who are themselves normally obliged to respond to applications within statutorily defined timescales.
110.Subsection (6) requires the relevant regulatory authority to have regard to any advice received by SNH when deciding to give its permission for an operation, and, where it does give its permission, in deciding whether any conditions should be attached to its permission.
111.Subsections (7) to (10) govern the situation in which a relevant regulatory authority decides not to follow advice from SNH, where that advice is not to grant permission for an operation or where it advises the regulator to impose certain conditions. Where this happens, certain conditions are imposed automatically and the regulator is obliged to inform both SNH and the applicant of the situation. This includes the requirement on the regulator – in addition to setting out the nature of the permission given and any terms and conditions – to explain what it has done, or proposes to do, in consequence of the advice given by SNH. The regulator must make it explicit that it has taken its decision in the face of SNH advice.
112.The first automatic condition imposed via subsection (10) is that the operation cannot commence before the expiry of a 28 day period from the point at which the regulator has informed SNH that its advice has not been followed. The provision for a 28 day period between notice being given to SNH and the permitted start date for the operation allows SNH time, if necessary, to seek an interdict under section 45 and/or to advise the Scottish Ministers of the situation (in which case the Scottish Ministers would also have the option of prohibiting the operation by means of a nature conservation order).
113.The obligation on the regulator to make it clear to the applicant that permission has been granted in the face of opposition from SNH is intended to ensure that the applicant is aware of the possibility that the permission could be challenged and the operation prohibited. In such circumstances the applicant may, for example, wish to avoid incurring significant expenditure in connection with the proposed operation until the situation has been more fully resolved.
114.The second condition is that the applicant is obliged, as a condition of the permission granted by the regulator, to carry out the operation in such a way as to minimise, as far as is reasonably practicable in all the circumstances, any damage or disturbance to the protected natural feature.