EU Directive (2014/89/EU) establishes a framework for maritime spatial planning which came into force on 17 September 2014 and defines maritime spatial planning as “a process by which the relevant Member State’s authorities analyse and organise human activities in marine areas to achieve ecological, economic and social objectives.” It establishes a much needed European framework whose overall rationale is sustainability of activities undertaken in our European marine spaces which Member States, excluding landlocked States, are obliged to transpose into national legislation by 18th September 2016. It also obliges Member States to draw up national maritime spatial plans by 31 March 2021, to report regularly on implementation and to review them every ten years. Following the two week public consultation held during July, Malta is expected to adopt the Maltese regulations transposing the Directive, in the near future.

This Directive specifically refers and regulates maritime areas adjacent to coastal states and does not extend nor interfere with the competence exercised by Member States over territorial land. This seems to be absent in the draft Regulations that is set to be transposed later next month1. The Directive is the result of a lengthy European negotiating process as part of the EU’S ‘Integral Maritime Policy’ which attempted to address marine and integrated coastal zone management holistically. However the final Directive focuses on maritime spatial planning, while acknowledging that “maritime and coastal activities are often closely related’ and that in “order to promote the sustainable use of maritime space, maritime spatial planning should take into account land-sea interactions”. The Directive does not apply to coastal waters or parts thereof falling under Member States’ town and country planning nor to their security and defence activities. Deference to Member States’ sovereignty and jurisdiction under relevant international law provisions is also confirmed, particularly in the delineation and delimitation of maritime boundaries under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Despite the fact that up until 2007 there was no specific reference to the term ‘maritime spatial planning’, the planning legislation had already provided for the necessary framework to issue developments to regulate sea uses2. Following the introduction of the EU Directive, Malta adopted the Strategic Plan for Environment and Development (SPED). The SPED provides the spatial framework that supports the development of an integrated maritime policy at a national level. Effectively, this was the first time that maritime spatial planning was properly first addressed on a national level.

The preservation and conservation of marine life and resources have always been of considerable importance, especially to those countries that have a direct economic interest. Having concrete legislation regulating maritime spatial development would allow a reduction of conflicts between sectors, likewise creating synergies between different activities. Moreover, this would encourage investment by instilling predictability, transparency and clearer rules, which in turn will help boost the development of renewable energy sources and grids, establish marine protected areas and facilitate investment for oil and gas. Through the use of a single instrument to balance the development of a range of maritime activities, coordination between administrations in each country would improve and cross-border cooperation between EU countries, on cables, pipelines, shipping lanes and wind installations would be ensured. Lastly concrete legislation on maritime spatial development would also serve to protect the environment through early identification of impact and opportunities for multiple use of space.

There is a subtle distinction between land spatial planning to and maritime spatial planning. Planning on land normally requires approval from local authorities while the latter is often subject to much more centralised controls. Land spatial planning may have several implications on land users, mainly to do with the construction of roads, lack of space and depletion of habitats. On the contrary, the implications concerning maritime spatial planning may take a different stride. For instance, in Europe the combined impacts of offshore wind farm development on fisheries will lead to displacement of fishing efforts to other areas, as well as higher fishing costs and reduced catches for some species. The sustainability strategy (2020) is aimed at ensuring the sustainable management of land and sea resources together with the protection of the environment and guides the development and use of land and sea space, while trying to favour the national interest.

The need for such legislation to be enacted emerged from the various difficulties that were being experienced between coastal states especially competing claims on space, inefficient use of sea space, unbalanced use of coastal space, suboptimal exploitation of economic potentials, insufficient adaptation to climate risks and the degradation of coastal and maritime environment. These kinds of limitations arose mainly due to competition for space and environmental threats3.

Making maritime spatial planning a legal obligation for Member States will definitely enhance uniformity in both the perception and implementation of sea management in the different European sea basins. This new implementation will eradicate any weak links between policy drivers (underpinned by a lack of clarity regarding the vision for sustainability which effectively poses many challenges) and integrated maritime spatial planning in Europe. Maritime spatial planning is the way forward and given that Malta is an island very much dependant on economies linked to the maritime and tourism sectors it will be pertinent for it to adopt the EU Directive with the aim of developing and implementing maritime spatial plans regulating sea use sustainably.

1 Directive 2014/89/EU, Article 2(3)

2 MEPA, An Overview of The State of Marine Spatial Planning in The Mediterranean Countries (Malta Report), 2007

3 Impact Assessment Report: proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing a framework for maritime spatial planning and integrated coastal management (2013)