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Lord Monro of Langholm: My Lords, perhaps the noble Baroness can intervene at some stage to deal with the following matter. Why have so many sites got into a bad state? Is it because English Nature has insufficient funds to make management agreements to keep the SSSIs up to the required standard, or is there a shortage of management to carry out the work? The onus seems to be on English Nature to indicate why

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these sites are in such poor shape and why it is not doing more to bring them back to where they should be.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the answer to the last question is that for a number of years there has been reliance on voluntary agreements. Sometimes that voluntary agreement has worked and sometimes it has not. Conservation agencies have discussed site management statements or conservation plans with many owners and occupiers of SSSIs. They have often been able to agree on measures designed to bring the sites back into good health. My noble friend Lady Young is right that that must be English Nature's objective. It certainly is the Government's objective. That is called "favourable condition". I shall return to that because the noble Lord, Lord Luke, asked what is the baseline about which we are talking. Sometimes this process works, and sometimes it does not.

The Bill's provision for management schemes in new Section 28J represents a formal recognition of this voluntary process. It similarly includes requirements for consultation. Subsections (3) and (7) of new Section 28J provide extensive opportunities for the land manager to contribute his or her expertise, often based on his or her knowledge of the condition of the land over a number of years, in the process of establishing the most appropriate management for the site.

The management scheme--or any similar arrangements, agreed separately--will be a key feature in helping to combat neglect, which is often a factor on sites where the special features are not in good health, and in helping to change management practices which do not support the special interest. Where change is required, the agency would of course offer a management agreement if additional costs were involved.

The noble Lord, Lord Luke, asked what was the baseline; what is meant by a site being in "favourable condition"? There cannot be a general answer. One can only give an answer in the context of an individual site. It must be related to the conservation objectives for the site. The objectives identify the minimum standard of conservation management needed to maintain the special interest that justified the notification of the land as an SSSI in the first place. They will relate to specific features on a site, such as the habitat requirements of species, or the area and composition of habitats. "Favourable condition" is the standard against which the agencies measure whether SSSIs--our most special nature conservation sites--are in good health. There is one standard; there is no one favourable condition. There can only be a favourable condition for each site.

In considering the action that a management scheme may need to include to restore a site where the features are not in good health, the agency will have regard to the statement of views about the management of the site, which Section 28(4) of the Bill requires it to prepare when notifying a new SSSI, or within five years for existing SSSIs. The statement will have explained in broad and simple terms the kind of

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management which would best support the special features of the SSSI; in effect, a summary of the conservation objectives. But in drawing up a management scheme for the site as a whole, or for an individual landholding within it, the agency will look to integrate those conservation objectives with the owner or occupier's management plans for the land. The agencies will be looking for the most sustainable match which secures the best opportunities both for the land manager and for the conservation interest.

SSSIs can only be notified on the basis that they contain special features which justify notification, but not all of the features will necessarily be in good health at the time the site is notified. A number will have aspects that require remedial action. I believe it would be an unreasonable constraint to prevent management schemes from seeking to achieve this, and might significantly compromise our long-term objective of securing favourable condition for all SSSIs. As the noble Baroness, Lady Young, rightly said, if we cannot go back to favourable condition and seek to improve on the conditions which existed at notification then in many cases it is not worth actually notifying an SSSI.

I believe the agencies should be reasonable and realistic in their expectations. Clearly, long-term decline cannot necessarily be reversed overnight. Securing healthy sites, in favourable condition, may be a long process, for which the active co-operation of the owner or occupier is an essential pre-condition for success.

That is why I emphasise the value to the conservation agencies of taking account of the land manager's own objectives. There will of course be opportunities to challenge a scheme if anyone considers it to be unreasonable. There is an opportunity to make representations once a scheme is served. The agency must consider these and English Nature is drawing up internal arrangements to ensure that representations are given a wholly fresh examination. If a management notice must eventually be served requiring action to be taken, there is a right of appeal to the Secretary of State, who can consider the extent to which it is reasonable to expect the works listed in the notice--and the management scheme--to be carried out.

I accept that the agencies must be cautious about imposing unreasonable or inappropriate demands on land managers, but restricting their ability to seek to secure the restoration to good health of all SSSIs could be damaging. I hope that the amendment will not be pressed.

10.30 p.m.

Lord Luke: My Lords, we are to some extent going round in circles and I believe that there is something of a misunderstanding. I am sure I am right in saying that the SSSI scheme has been going for some 20 to 25 years. It would be reasonable to assume that during that period nearly all SSSIs have been well managed due to the management schemes that were put in place

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when they were notified at the time, and that there are probably very few indeed which require the restoration that may or may not be needed.

Baroness Young of Old Scone: My Lords, perhaps I may give two facts. First, 40 per cent of all our SSSIs are in an unfavourable condition and are showing no signs of improvement. Secondly, under the current legislation, until the Bill becomes an Act, if a landowner or occupier refuses to undertake a management plan, we ultimately have no statutory means of insisting that work to carry out improvements takes place. There is a serious problem. At the moment we have no mechanisms as a nation to resolve the problem if there is no ability to reach agreement.

Lord Luke: My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness. I am astonished to hear that such a large proportion of SSSIs, which were established some time ago, are not in a good state. I am in favour of them being restored to the condition that they were in, or better, when the notification took place 20 years ago.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, "or better". Those are the words.

Lord Luke: My Lords, "or better", under a voluntary agreement. The objective of the amendment is to stop any indication to a perhaps negligent owner who has not kept to the terms of the original agreement that he should restore the SSSI not only to what it was when there was a satisfactory agreement in place but going back to something that was never there in the original agreement. That is all I am talking about. I have no objection to getting back to the condition they should be in. I think that we are all on the same side. I shall withdraw the amendment but I should like to discuss the matter with the noble Baroness, Lady Young, to see whether we can sort out exactly where we are. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Luke moved Amendment No. 206:

    Page 118, line 22, at end insert--

("( ) Where a notice under subsection (3) has been given and is subsequently withdrawn, the Council shall reimburse any costs reasonably incurred by any of the persons mentioned in subsection (3) in making any representation or objection in relation to the notice.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment should be a little less difficult. It is an established principle that where a statutory body commences any proceedings which lead to the person affected incurring costs in dealing with the proposal and the body then fails to proceed for whatever reason, the person affected is entitled to receive reimbursement of those costs from the body concerned. For example, the principle has been established in relation to compulsory purchases of land under Section 31 of the Land Compensation Act 1961.

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The same principle should apply where a notice regarding a management scheme is not subsequently confirmed in relation to an owner or occupier who was notified and who reasonably incurred costs in handling and responding to the notice. Such costs could include those of attending meetings with English Nature or the Countryside Council for Wales or in seeking proper professional advice on the implications of the notice or in seeking professional assistance in preparing any representation or objection. I beg to move.

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