Any person (natural or legal person) who wishes to pursue activities in the Belgian part of the North Sea must ask himself the question whether a federal environmental licence is required and what procedure has to be followed.
Do I need an environmental licence?
Three scenarios could arise: an environmental licence or authorisation is needed, an environmental licence is not required and certain activities are always prohibited at sea and thus cannot be permitted.
An environmental licence or authorisation is needed for the following activities:
• activities of civil engineering (e.g. the construction of wind turbines);
• digging of trenches and raising the seabed;
• use of high powered explosives and acoustic instruments;
• leaving and destroying wrecks and sunken cargoes;
• industrial activities;
• activities of publicity and commercial enterprises.
It is advisable to contact the Marine Environment Service or the Management Unit of the Mathematical Model of the North Sea and the Scheldt estuary (MUMM) in advance. Note that other licences may also be required (municipal, regional or other federal departments); please inquire with the other competent agencies.
No environmental licence or authorization is needed for the following activities at sea:
• commercial fishing;
• marine scientific research;
• shipping with the exception of leaving behind and destroying wrecks and sunken cargoes;
• activities falling under the Act of June 13,1969 regarding the continental shelf of Belgium (e.g. sand mining);
• non-profit individual activities;
• activities in support of the authorities of the Flemish Region (e.g. coastal defence).
The following activities are forbidden at sea:
• incineration at sea;
• dumping in sea;
• hunting at sea
• recreational fishing with gillnets;
• introduction of genetically modified organisms (GMOs);
• direct discharges into the sea.
Apart from the environmental licence, there is an obligation of 'appropriate assessment' to determine what the significant effects from the activities are on the species and habitats for which Natura 2000 sites are established.
What is the procedure?
To obtain an environmental licence, the initiator must submit the application along with an environmental impact assessment (EIA) to the MUMM. The EIA discusses the impact and the alternatives. Based on this and after consulting the public, the MUMM draws up an environmental impact assessment (EIA).
The EIA is subsequently forwarded to the Marine Environment Service which in turn can provide additional advice in a broader context of sustainable development (environmental - economic - social). After this, the EIA is sent to the competent minister or the secretary of state.
A simplified procedure is possible for some specifically described cases; in that case, only a standard form has to be filled for the EIA and the public consultation is set aside. This simplified procedure applies to the activities of publicity and commercial enterprises:
• where a maximum of 20 motorized vessels are deployed;
• where one or more motorized vessels with a cumulative cylinder capacity of maximum 12000 cc are deployed.