Marine development: making single licence applications for multi-phase projects
Applications must include all the information about the project being applied for and its effects in order to meet the requirements of a marine licensing process. We can only consider the information provided with the application during the assessment of a marine licence application. You must therefore ensure that you provide information about the entire project, and its effects, to meet the requirements of the marine licensing process.
There are specific requirements for assessing projects for EIA and for HRA and these are explained below.
Environmental Impact Assessment for multi-phase projects
NRW's marine licensing team are an Appropriate Authority for EIA, in accordance with the Marine Works Regulations (2007). For EIA relevant projects, our Marine Licence decision must be made in accordance with our decision on EIA.
The EIA decision must be made for the entire project; this must include all cumulative and transboundary assessments. It is not possible to consider the effects of part of the project and make assessment of the remainder of the project after a consent has been issued. Therefore, it is important that your application contains all the relevant information about the phases of the project, and an assessment of the possible effects of each phase in addition to an assessment of the entire project.
The application documents must include all the information needed to reach the EIA decision. Read our guidance on EIA Scoping for more information on what should be included in EIA. The detail required will be case-specific and should be proportionate to the potential adverse effects. The reasoning behind the elimination of any potential of effects should be presented. Note that even small projects may have large potential effects. You should consider what information is needed to allow us to make an EIA decision.
This information is likely to include, but is not limited to:
- Characterisation and baseline information on the receptors – site-specific information should be collected and presented along with a description of any uncertainty in this data. To find more information on baseline survey, see our marine development guidance.
- A description of each of the phases of the project, in sufficient detail to allow a meaningful assessment.
- A description of the likely significant environmental effects from each phase.
- A description of how the project will progress between phases.
- Any measures required to reduce, avoid or mitigate adverse effects caused by the project, for each and all phases of the project. If the effects are uncertain, there must be sufficient, and realistic measures proposed to reduce, avoid or mitigate the maximum likely significant effect. It may be appropriate to consider adaptive management in these cases.
It is likely that you may not be able to assess the potential effects of latter phases of the project with confidence. In this case, you must make an assessment of the likely worst-case scenario, explaining the uncertainty of the assessment and why the scenario represents a realistic worst-case.
You may wish to describe the potential range of effect, but likely worst-case effects must be clearly described. If significant effects cannot be ruled out, you must include details of suitable, deliverable and realistic measures designed to mitigate these effects. This may include not progressing to later phases if effects cannot be otherwise adequately mitigated.
If, due to a need to obtain information that cannot be collected prior to starting the project, there remains considerable uncertainty around the potential significant effects of the project, you should consider if adaptive management of these effects may provide a suitable mechanism for ensuring that the necessary level of confidence on the potential effect(s) can be obtained during a given phase in the project.
Our EIA decisions
Our EIA decision must include the following in relation to the approach to phased projects:
- A description of which receptors require the use of phases to resolve the environmental uncertainty.
- A detailed description of each phase of the project to a level that represents the current understanding at the time of application.
- A description of how the activities in the first phase, and any subsequent phases, will help resolve the environmental uncertainty in later phases and how this will be managed.
- Any measures to avoid, reduce or mitigate likely significant effects.
We are required to make an assessment of the effects of the project, and the measures to avoid, reduce or mitigate those effects, during the determination of the EIA consent. It is not possible to defer consideration of the potential effects, or the proposal of mitigatory measures, to the post-consent phase. Therefore, the environmental information submitted must include details of the environmental effects of all phases of the project, and sufficient measures to mitigate ‘worst case scenario’ effects. Where project phasing is being relied upon to reduce the overall level of environmental risk, it must be clear how the use of project phases will be used to eliminate or reduce risk of environmental effects.
Habitats Regulations Assessment for multi-phase projects
Projects that have the potential to cause impacts in European Sites require a Habitats Regulations Assessment (HRA) to be completed prior to issuing a marine licence. A marine licence may only be issued if the conclusion of the HRA is that the project as a whole will not cause an adverse effect on site integrity of any European Site, unless paragraphs 64 and 68 of the Habitats Regulations 2017 can be applied (i.e. there are no alternative solutions, the project has imperative reasons of overriding public interest – IROPI, and compensation for the loss can be provided). Welsh Government policy is that Ramsar sites are considered in the same way as European Sites (SACs and SPAs). Therefore, this guidance applies to Ramsar sites in addition to European Sites.
When we carry out the HRA, our assessment must include all phases of the project. We cannot complete an HRA for the first phase with a view to revisiting the assessment for successive phases. Therefore, if your project relies on information from the initial phase to inform the HRA for successive phases, you may need to consider if it is more appropriate to apply for the phases in separate applications. In some cases it may be possible to collect information to inform phasing where this is likely to confirm that the project will not cause adverse effect on site integrity. You should contact the Marine Licensing Team to discuss further if required.
Some projects may use phases when individual effects are temporary, but could be cumulative with other effects, to prevent all of those effects happening at the same point in time. This would limit the effects occurring at a particular point to an acceptable level (below adverse effect). For example, if a disturbance impact is associated with construction, the size of each deployment phase could be limited to below that which would cause adverse effect on the integrity of the site.
If the project might cause an adverse effect on the integrity of a European Site, in any of the phases of the project, you will need to identify measures to reduce the impacts to a level that does not result in an adverse effect on the site. As the HRA process is precautionary, if the impacts are uncertain - but may occur - we cannot rule out adverse effect. You can propose suitable potential mitigation for future phases, which may not need to be implemented, using an adaptive management plan. However, for the purposes of HRA, you cannot solely rely on another assessment in the future to demonstrate that no adverse effect from later phases will occur – for example the collection of data to rerun an assessment is not considered to be mitigation; nor is the collection of data to increase the evidence base considered to be mitigation. This information is useful, but cannot be relied upon for HRA, which must use the information available at the point of determining the Marine Licence. Therefore, the plan must provide enough detail of realistic measures which provide sufficient confidence that an adverse effect on site integrity will not occur, without the reliance on future data obtained during operation. This may include mitigation measures that may not be needed if the data collection indicates lower risk than initially predicted.
Progression between phases
It may be possible to propose an adaptive environmental management plan (AEMP) to guide the transition to subsequent project phases. This will include details of how the implementation of phasing will reduce or eliminate risk of adverse effects occurring and how your project will progress between phases. The project phasing element of the AEMP should include the following information:
- A description of the phases of the project, clearly indicating what activities fall into each phase.
- A description of how the project will progress between phases. This should include a description of potential outcomes at each ‘gateway’, including what criteria must be met to allow progression. This must include how these criteria will be assessed, and who will assess them.
- Any measures required to reduce, avoid or mitigate adverse effects caused by the project, for all phases of the project. If the effects are uncertain, there must be sufficient and suitable measures proposed to reduce, avoid or mitigate the maximum effect to a level that is not an adverse effect.
- If phasing of the project is being used as a measure to reduce potential for impact in the HRA, this should be included in your AEMP. When considering if this is the most appropriate solution, remember that you cannot solely rely on carrying out an assessment in the future (after early phases) to show that no adverse effect from later phases will occur. For example, collecting data in phase 1 can inform the management measures, but you cannot rely on the collection of this data to effectively repeat the HRA.