HL Deb 26 February 1992 vol 536 cc9-11WA
Lord Swinfen

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What plans they have to issue a consultation paper on marine consultation areas.

Baroness Blatch

The Department of the Environment is today issuing a joint consultation paper with the Welsh Office on a new scheme to extend the designation of sites of marine conservation interest in England and Wales beyond the existing statutory marine nature reserves. This new designation is "marine consultation area" and we are publishing a first list of 16 proposed sites together with draft government guidelines, addressed to regulatory agencies, on the procedures to be adopted in relation to them. Comments are being invited from these regulatory agencies and from others with interests in the localities concerned, the conservation of marine fauna and flora, and the operations likely to be affected. These are to be with the departments concerned by Wednesday 22nd April 1992.

The scheme acknowledges the important role that statutory marine nature reserves have played, and will continue to play, in promoting marine nature conservation, while recognising that there is a legitimate conservation interest that extends beyond statutory reserves. The sea itself cannot be fenced off and effective protection of areas' marine conservation interest requires voluntary co-operation from a wide range of sea users.

The scheme proposed builds on one already in place in Scotland but goes further by way of a government circular which gives clear guidelines to promote consultation between all the bodies concerned. A draft of this circular forms the basis of the consultation document.

All bodies taking decisions that might affect the conservation interest of the listed sites are asked to consult English Nature, or the Countryside Council for Wales as appropriate, at the earliest feasible stage. Any advice offered by the conservation agencies as a result of this consultation is to be given due weight by decision-makers and the conservation agencies are to be told of decisions taken in the light of their advice.

The scheme is intended to run on an entirely voluntary basis with the Joint Nature Conservation Committee monitoring results in order to determine its effectiveness. Annual reports, which will be made available to the public on request, will be submitted to the government departments concerned.

The 16 sites have been selected on the basis of advice from English Nature and the Countryside Council for Wales, and include existing and proposed statutory marine nature reserves. A full list indicating area and position is set out as an Annex to the circular. Copies of the consultation paper have today been placed in the Library.

In addition, detailed descriptions of 16 sites, together with maps, are to be published separately in a free-standing document entitled Marine Consultation Areas—A Description. Copies of the latest draft are available from the Department of the Environment.

The issue of the consultation paper fulfils the commitment in the White Paper Anniversary Report This Common Inheritance—The First Year Report(CM 1655—paragraph 5.28) that the Government would publish, on a consultative basis, by early 1992, a first list of proposed marine consultation areas in England and Wales and draft government guidelines addressed to regulatory agencies.