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WG Environmental Law > Meetings > Bucharest 16 -17 May 2013 > Case study : Mountain bike downhill course

Case study : Mountain bike downhill course


In a northern Bavarian mountain range (up to 832 meters above see level) a chairlift for skiing exists. An operator plans to create a mountain bike downhill course by using the chairlift in the snowless season to get the cyclists uphill. The project comprises a “free ride track” and a “4X track”. The latter facility serves the competition of four cyclists running down at the same time. The local community is in favor of this project as it expects a promotion of tourism in this in former time underdeveloped region.

The part of the area concerned not covered by wood is mainly classified as Special Protection Area (SPA) under Council Directive 79/409/ECC of 2 April 1979 on the conservation of wild birds (“Wild Birds Directive”) and is listed in accordance with article 4 (2) subparagraph 3 of Council Directive 92/43/EEC of May 1992 on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora (“Habitats Directive”) as Site of Community Interest by Commission Decision 2008/25/EC of 13 November 2007 as follows :

“DE5426320 Hohe Rhön 1 620 ha”.

According to a landscape protection regulation for the entire mountain range from the 80s a permit is required for the project. The public authority, assuming that the project has likely a significant effect on the Natura 2000 site, requires an ecological expertise. The operator submits an expert’s report from a (private) Society for Ecology and Landscape Planning (hereinafter “the expert’s report”)
The expert’s report points out : Subject to examination was a stripe of 25 meters on both sides of the tracks. This area hosts the following natural habitat types according to Annex I of the Habitats Directive :

6230 Species-rich Nardus grasslands, on silicious substrates in mountain

areas (and submountain areas in Continental Europe), designated as priority habitat type

6520 Mountain hay meadows

The expert’s report assumes that about 1000 m² of the Natura 2000 site will be used. It concludes that the project will not adversely affect the integrity of the site in view of the site’s conservation objectives.

A non governmental organization (NGO), promoting the protection of wild birds, which is recognized by the Free State of Bavaria in the context of rules on legal standing in environmental matters, submits objections.

The public authority grants the permit supplied with a list of conditions. Following the expert’s report the public authority holds that a dispensation from the Natura 2000 rules is not necessary.

The NGO lodges an appeal with the Administrative Court and claims the annulment of the permit. It challenges the assessment by the experts instructed by the operator. It argues that irrespective of other impacts by the project the loss of 1000 m² of the protected area contravenes the Natura 2000 rules. The legal conditions for a dispensation were not met.

The operator is summoned to the proceedings as a third party.

The defendant is of the opinion that the Nature 2000 rules were not applicable because a suspensation does not exist. An assessment of an effect on the Natura 2000 was subject to review by the court on obvious errors only. It holds furthermore that the loss of 1000 m² is not significant in relation to the size of the site (16 200 000 m²). Furthermore it points out that overriding reasons of an economic nature have to be recognized.

The reporting judge carries out an inspection of the site in question.

Questions :

1. Can the NGO invoke an infringement of Natura 2000 rules, although a dispensation was not granted ?

2. What is the extent of the judicial review of the impact assessment made by the public authority ? Is a margin of administrative discretion to be respected ?

3. Does the project adversely affect the integrity of the site ?

4. Assuming such an impact, must/can the court reverse the decision because of a procedural error or must/can the court check whether a dispensation is justified ?

5. Are the preconditions for dispensation, set out in article 6 Habitats Directive, met ?

It shall be assumed that legal standing for the NGO is granted by the national law and that a dispensation from the Natura 2000 rules, if necessary, is to deliver in the permit based on the landscape protection regulation.

The solution on the merits shall be based on the Habitats Directive assuming that the national substantial nature protection law has exactly the same wording.

Legal framework

Habitats Directive
Article 3 (1)

A coherent European ecological network of special areas of conservation shall be set up under the title Natura 2000. This network, composed of sites hosting the natural habitat types listed in Annex I and habitats of the species listed in Annex II, shall enable the natural habitat types and the species’ habitats concerned to be maintained or, where appropriate, restored at a favourable conservation status in their natural range.

The Natura 2000 network shall include the special protection areas classified by the Member States pursuant to Directive 79/409/EEC.

Articolul 3

(1) Se instituie o rețea ecologică europeană coerentă, care să reunească ariile speciale de conservare, cu denumirea de Natura 2000. Compusă din situri care adăpostesc tipurile de habitate naturale
enumerate în anexa I și habitatele speciilor enumerate în anexa II, această rețea permite menținerea sau, după caz, readucerea la un stadiu corespunzător de conservare în aria lor de extindere naturală a
tipurilor de habitate naturale și a habitatelor speciilor respective.

Sistemul Natura 2000 va include arii speciale de protejare clasificate de statele membre în temeiul Directivei 79/409/CEE.

Article 4 (2) subparagraph 3
The list of sites selected as sites of Community importance, identifying those which host one or more priority natural habitat types or priority species, shall be adopted by the Commission in accordance with the procedure laid down in Article 21.

Comisia adoptă, în conformitate cu procedura prevăzută la articolul 21, lista siturilor selectate ca situri de importanță comunitară, cu evidențierea celor care adăpostesc unul sau mai multe tipuri de habitate naturale prioritare sau specii prioritare.

Article 4 (5)
As soon as a site is placed on the list referred to in the third subparagraph of paragraph 2 it shall be subject to Article 6 (2), (3) and (4).

(5) De îndată ce este inclus în lista menționată la alineatul (2) paragraful al treilea, orice sit este supus dispozițiilor articolului 6 alineatele (2), (3) și (4).

Article 6

3. Any plan or project not directly connected with or necessary to the management of the site but likely to have a significant effect thereon, either individually or in combination with other plans or projects, shall be subject to appropriate assessment of its implications for the site in view of the site’s conservation objectives. In the light of the conclusions of the assessment of the implications for the site and subject to the provisions of paragraph 4, the competent national authorities shall agree to the plan or project only after having ascertained that it will not adversely affect the integrity of the site concerned and, if appropriate, after having obtained the opinion of the general public.

4. If, in spite of a negative assessment of the implications for the site and in the absence of alternative solutions, a plan or project must nevertheless be carried out for imperative reasons of overriding public interest, including those of a social or economic nature, the Member State shall take all compensatory measures necessary to ensure that the overall coherence of Natura 2000 is protected. It shall inform the Commission of the compensatory measures adopted. Where the site concerned hosts a priority natural habitat type and/or a priority species, the only considerations which may be raised are those relating to human health or public safety, to beneficial consequences of primary importance for the environment or, further to an opinion from the Commission, to other imperative reasons of overriding public interest.

(3) Orice plan sau proiect care nu are o legătură directă cu sau nu este necesar pentru gestionarea sitului, dar care ar putea afecta în mod semnificativ aria, per se sau în combinație cu alte planuri sau proiecte, trebuie supus unei evaluări corespunzătoare a efectelor potențiale asupra sitului, în funcție de obiectivele de conservare ale acestuia din urmă. În funcție de concluziile evaluării respective și în conformitate cu dispozițiile alineatului (4), autoritățile naționale competente aprobă planul sau
proiectul doar după ce au constatat că nu are efecte negative asupra integrității sitului respectiv și, după caz, după ce au consultat opinia publică.

(4) Dacă, în ciuda unui rezultat negativ al evaluării efectelor asupra sitului și în lipsa unei soluții alternative, planul sau proiectul trebuie realizat, cu toate acestea, din motive cruciale de interes public major, inclusiv din rațiuni de ordin social sau economic, statul membru ia toate măsurile compensatorii necesare pentru a proteja coerența globală a sistemului Natura 2000. Statul membru informează Comisia cu privire la măsurile compensatorii adoptate. În cazul în care situl respectiv adăpostește un tip de habitat natural prioritar și/sau o specie prioritară, singurele considerente care pot fi invocate sunt cele legate de sănătatea sau siguranța publică, de anumite consecințe benefice de importanță majoră pentru mediu sau, ca urmare a avizului Comisiei, de alte motive cruciale de interes
public major.

Article 7
Obligations arising under Article 6 (2), (3) and (4) of this Directive shall replace any obligations arising under the first sentence of Article 4 (4) of Directive 79/409/EEC in respect of areas classified pursuant to Article 4 (1)…

Articolul 7

Obligațiile care decurg din articolul 6 alineatele (2), (3) și (4) din prezenta directivă înlocuiesc orice obligații rezultând de la articolul 4 alineatul (4) prima teză din Directiva 79/409/CEE în ceea ce privește ariile clasificate în conformitate cu articolul 4 alineatul (1)…

Wild Birds Directive

Article 4

1. The species mentioned in Annex I shall be the subject of special conservation measures concerning their habitat in order to ensure their survival and reproduction in their area of distribution.

Articolul 4
(1) Speciile menționate în anexa I constituie obiectul unor măsuri speciale de conservare a habitatelor acestora pentru a li se asigura supraviețuirea și reproducerea în aria de răspândire.

4. In respect of the protection areas referred to in paragraphs 1 and 2 above, Member States shall take appropriate steps to avoid pollution or deterioration of habitats or any disturbances affecting the birds, in so far as these would be significant having regard to the objectives of this Article. Outside these protection areas, Member States shall also strive to avoid pollution or deterioration of habitats.

(4) Statele membre iau măsurile corespunzătoare pentru a evita, în zonele de protecție menționate la alineatele (1) și (2), poluarea sau deteriorarea habitatelor sau orice alt efect negativ asupra păsărilor, în măsura în care acestea au relevanță în contextul obiectivelor prezentului articol. Statele membre depun eforturi pentru a evita poluarea sau deteriorarea habitatelor și în afara zonelor de protecție.

Aarhus Convention

3. In addition and without prejudice to the review procedures referred to in paragraphs 1 and 2 above, each Party shall ensure that, where they meet the criteria, if any, laid down in its national law, members of the public have access to administrative or judicial procedures to challenge acts and omissions by private persons and public authorities which
contravene provisions of its national law relating to the environment

(3) În plus față de căile de atac prevăzute la alineatele (1) și (2) și fără a le aduce atingere, fiecare parte se asigură că, în cazul în care îndeplinesc criteriile prevăzute de legislația internă proprie, în cazul în care acestea există, membrii publicului au acces la proceduri administrative sau judiciare pentru a contesta acțiuni și omiteri ale persoanelor fizice și ale autorităților publice care contravin dispozițiilor legislației interne proprii privind mediul.