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Environmental Legislative Context

The PLA, as a statutory harbour authority, has environmental duties under the Harbours Act 1964, specifically to have regard to:

  • the conservation of the natural beauty of the countryside and of flora, fauna and geological or physiographical features of interest;

  • the desirability of preserving for the public any freedom of access to places of natural beauty; and

  • the desirability of maintaining the availability to the public of any facility for visiting or inspecting any building, site or object of archaeological, architectural or historic interest.

The PLA must comply with these requirements when considering an application for River Works or Dredging under the Port of London Act 1968 and also in its own activities and functions.  Further details on the PLA’s regulatory functions can be found in the Port of London Act 1968.  The PLA’s port limits and environmental designations in the Outer Thames are shown below.

PLA Port Limits and Environmental Designations in the Outer Thames Estuary

The PLA is also a competent authority under the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 and the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000.  It is therefore a requirement for the PLA to ensure continuing compliance with environmental legislation (including the relevant EC Directives) and to take the environment into account in its actions and decisions.

A list of the main pieces of environmental legislation relevant to the PLA’s regulatory role is given below:

1. Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017

The Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 consolidate all the amendments made to the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010 as amended and the Conservation (Natural Habitats etc) Regulations 1994 for England and Wales and implements some aspects of the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009. 

These regulations transpose the Habitats Directive (92/43/EC – the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora) and the Wild Birds Directive (2009/147/EC). The Habitats Directive established a European network of special areas of conservation (SACs) and special protection areas (SPAs) known as Natura 2000, to protect important habitats and species. 

The PLA, as a competent authority, has to have regard to the Regulations under Part 1.  Part 6 of the Regulations require an Appropriate Assessment of any plan or project that is considered likely to have a significant effect upon a Natura 2000 site before a consent can be granted. 

The PLA, as a landowner, must comply with Part 2 before carrying out or permitting to be carried out potentially damaging operations (see below), and must comply with Part 3 which protects certain wild animals and plants.

2. Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 (as amended)

The PLA is a Section 28G authority under the 1981 Act (Schedule 9 of the 2000 Act) which confers a duty to take reasonable steps to further the conservation and enhancement of the features of the Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).  As such, the PLA must consult with Natural England before any activities are carried out which are likely to damage a SSSI.  As a regulator the PLA must comply with section 28I, and as landowner, with section 28E. 

3. EIA Directive (97/11/EC)

The EIA Directive requires an Environmental Impact Assessment of certain projects.  The Marine Works (EIA) Regulations 2007 (as amended) apply the provision of the Directive to certain categories of marine works. 

4. Water Framework Directive and Implementing Regulations

The Water Framework Directive 2000/60/EC (as amended) is transposed into national law by means of the Water Environment (Water Framework Directive) (England and Wales) Regulations, 2017.  These Regulations create a new strategic planning process to enable the management, protection and improvement of water resources in England and Wales.  

It creates River Basin Districts with objectives and a programme of measures to ensure they meet the objectives.

To ensure there is no deterioration of the water body, anyone applying for permission to undertake activities in water bodies must provide an assessment with their application to the public body that regulates and grants permissions for the activity.  If you are applying for permission to the PLA for dredging or river works activities you must provide a Water Framework Directive assessment – this page explains exemptions and the process.

5. Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009

The Act (as amended) established the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) to manage the marine area around England, to undertake certain nature conservation licensing functions and to provide enforcement powers for Marine Enforcement Officers to investigate certain nature conservation offences in the marine area.

The Act allows for creation of Marine Conservation Zones where it is an office to intentionally or recklessly kill or injure the protected feature of the site.  On the Thames there is one MCZ at Swanscombe to protect intertidal muds and the Tentacled lagoon worm (alkmaria romijni).

The MMO licence activities below mean high water springs.  On the Thames, your activity may require a marine licence from the MMO and a river works licence, dredging consent or temporary rivers works licence from the PLA (for works below mean high water).

The Act also aims to improve access to the English coast and established Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authorities (IFCA) to improve management of inshore fisheries.

UK Exit from the EU

Significant environmental legislation will be enacted to ensure appropriate environmental governance and regulation after the UK exits the EU.


Specific activities, such as oil spill response, are controlled by legislation and other bodies such as the Environment Agency, Marine Management Organisation and Natural England also regulate environmental legislation,

Last reviewed May 2020.

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