In September last year we considered Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) in detail, including where Defra had got to in the process for designating further sites, how they are established, the regulators and their functions and the impact on proposed coastal projects – our briefing can be read here

At the end of last year an announcement on the second tranche of MCZ designations was expected, together with an announcement of a third tranche of candidate MCZs in early 2016.  

Announcement on Tranche 2

Defra has now announced the designation of the 23 second tranche sites on 17 January 2016, which can be viewed here. These 23 sites protect an additional 10,760 km2 of seabed. 

The Third Tranche

At the same time Defra also announced that they will be consulting on a third and final tranche of sites. Defra also published an update document on 17 January 2016 (Update) which indicates timings for the third phase of MCZs and how sites will be selected for this. The third phase will aim to complete the UK 'Blue Belt' and our contribution to the ecologically coherent network in the North East Atlantic.

The Tranche 3 sites will be selected for consultation from the remainder of the 127 sites put forward by the Regional Projects that have not already been designated or removed from consideration, but excluding sites in offshore waters adjacent to Wales. 

Under the Wales Bill, marine conservation will be devolved. It will therefore fall to the Welsh government to consider suitable provision of MCZs in their offshore waters as part of their ongoing programme to designate MCZs at the following sites: Celtic Deep, East of Celtic Deep, Mid St George’s Channel, North of Celtic Deep and North St George’s Channel.

Before a formal consultation is issued Defra will work closely with local and national stakeholders until the autumn 2016. Defra then intends to select sites for formal consultation in 2017, and anticipates making designations in 2018.  

The Update states Defra, "want to identify fisheries management measures for any new sites within two years of designation. For activities that require a licence (e.g. developments, aggregate dredging), MCZs are taken into account when considering licence applications from the point the MCZs are consulted on."  "We will continue to work with Regulators and the JNCC and Natural England to ensure that stakeholders with an interest in both designation and management of MPAs can engage in this process."

Regulating MCZs

Our previous briefing considered the regulators' functions and implications for proposed coastal projects.  MCZs are protected under the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 (MCAA). This introduced a system of strategic offshore planning by requiring public authorities to take authorisation or enforcement decisions in accordance with the appropriate marine policy documents. Coastal development proposed in or near MCZs must therefore follow a particular planning process. Our briefing can be read here.

Comment

Development proposals will need to carefully consider the potential for any impact (whether direct or indirect) on a MCZ. The decision maker must be satisfied that there is no significant risk that the project will hinder the achievement of MCZ conservation objectives. If not, before agreeing to authorise the project, the decision maker will need to be persuaded that there is no other way to design the project to substantially lower the risk; that the benefit to the public outweighs the risk of damage to the environment; and that measures of equivalent environmental benefit would be undertaken.