Maritime spatial planning is intended to be a useful decision-making tool. It is defined by the European Commission as 'a process that consists of data collection, stakeholder consultation and the participatory development of a plan, the subsequent stages of implementation, enforcement, evaluation and revision.' The Maritime Spatial Planning Directive 2014 (Directive 2014/89/EU) ('MSPD') establishes a framework for maritime spatial planning by which relevant Member States' authorities analyse and organise human activities in marine areas to achieve ecological, economic and social objectives (Article 3(2) MSPD).

Public participation is highlighted as an important requirement in the MSPD, with Member States required to inform all interested parties and consult relevant stakeholders, authorities and the public at an early stage in the development of maritime spatial plans. Member States must organise the use of best available data necessary for maritime spatial plans, and decide how to organise the sharing of information.

Member States are required to establish and implement marine plans for their marine waters as soon as possible, but by 31 March 2021 at the latest (with such plans to be reviewed at least every ten years), taking into account land-sea interactions and having due regard to the particularities of the marine regions, relevant existing and future activities and uses and their impacts on the environment and natural resources. The intention is to promote the sustainable coexistence of uses.

National marine planning

The legal basis for marine planning in the UK is found in Part 3 of the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 ('MCAA'). In addition, the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 applies to Scottish waters (subject to a few exceptions) and the Marine Act (Northern Ireland) 2013 applies to the Northern Ireland inshore region.

UK waters are divided into eight separate marine planning regions; one for each inshore and offshore region of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. A marine plan may relate to an entire marine planning region, such as the proposed Welsh national plan in the Welsh inshore region, or only part of the marine planning region, such as the East inshore marine plan in the English inshore region.

A Marine Planning Statement ('MPS') has been jointly adopted by the UK Administrations of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. It is intended to set the general policy framework for marine planning and decisions affecting the marine environment. The Marine Plans are expected to apply the policies and objectives set out in the MPS at the local level with a 20 year view of the activities and processes in the local area.

Marine Plans are important as MCAA creates a legal requirement that all public authorities (including the Marine Management Organisation ('MMO') and the Crown Estate), making authorisation or enforcement decisions that affect or might affect the UK marine area, do so in accordance with the MPS, or the local Marine Plan once adopted, unless relevant considerations indicate otherwise. The authority must state its reasons if it does not do so.

Current Status

The East Inshore and East Offshore marine plans were published in April 2014 and are the only plans that have been adopted to date. However, the MMO intends to consult on the draft South Inshore and South Offshore marine plans with a view to these being adopted towards the end of 2016. The MMO is at the early stages of consulting on the challenges, opportunities and needs of the remaining English marine planning areas and launched the start of marine planning for the north west, north east, south east and south west marine plan areas in April 2016. All marine users would be well-advised to participate in the process of developing their local Marine Plan.

Scotland's National Marine Plan was published in December 2014. Formal consultation on the draft Welsh National Marine Plan is expected later in 2016. Similarly, Northern Ireland is expected to release the first draft National Marine Plan for public consultation in 2016.

This article, authored by barrister Nicola Canty from the Firm's Marine Regulatory team, has been featured in the June edition of Marine and Maritime Gazette.