asked Her Majesty's Government:
Further to the Written Statement by the Minister for Local Environment, Marine and Animal Welfare on 23 May (Official Report, 78WS), why the target for the issue of Food and Environmental Protection Act licences is 65 per cent in 12 weeks, 80 per cent in 15 weeks, leaving 20 per cent taking four months or longer.
The Marine and Fisheries Agency deals with around 400 applications each year, ranging from proposals for small-scale construction works, such as yacht club jetties and the disposal of dredgings from marinas, through to major port and offshore wind-farm projects.
The performance targets for determining applications reflect both the scale and sensitivities of projects and the likely timeframes for resolving potential conflicts with other uses of the sea. They also reflect the likely timeframes for negotiating appropriate mitigation or compensation where works may adversely impact the marine environment and designated conservation areas.
In the majority of cases, applications that do not raise concerns regarding interference with the activities of others, or which do not present a threat to the environment, can be processed within a period of 12 weeks. Others highlight areas of concern that call for negotiation with the applicant and their advisers to resolve or mitigate matters identified by the assessment process or during consultation. This extends the time necessary to reach a decision. For example, London Array—the world's largest offshore wind farm—licensed in December 2006, raised a number of issues, particularly navigational safety and protection of birds.
A significant proportion, particularly the large-scale schemes, may raise issues which take considerably longer to decide. This could arise where the project presents a risk to a designated Natura 2000 site. In such cases, the project may be permitted only where it can be demonstrated that there is no alternative and must proceed for reasons of imperative overriding public interest, subject to agreement over suitable compensation. Schemes may also trigger the need for the project to be considered at a local or public inquiry (normally triggered by other consent regimes, such as a planning application or application for a harbour empowerment order) that may extend considerably the time necessary to reach a determination. A recent example is the harbour development at Immingham, where the licensing process was extended by an inquiry instigated under the Harbours Act.