On the 1st April 2009 the Scottish Government set up Marine Scotland (MS) and published its initial Marine Strategy Statement. MS is to be the champion of Scotland's seas and is tasked with regulating and managing what is arguably one of Scotland's largest assets.

This body has been established in response to overwhelming support from consultees to the government's "Sustainable Seas for All" consultation and its functions will directly impact the delivery of offshore renewable energy and oil and gas developments.

Functions of Marine Scotland

MS has been established as a delivery directorate within the Scottish Government and its initial functions (2009-2010) will pull together those of the existing Scottish Fisheries Protection Agency, Fisheries Research Services and the core marine policy and regulatory functions of the Scottish Government.

From early 2010, MS will acquire new responsibilities through the Scottish Marine Bill which is expected to be introduced to Scottish Parliament in late spring 2009.

Strategy Forum

A Marine Strategy Forum is to be established to bring together delivery partners and stakeholders with a marine interest to ensure an integrated approach throughout Scotland. It is not clear when this is to be established as the Strategy Statement puts forward both May and July 2009 as proposed establishment dates. Clarification has been requested from Marine Scotland on this point.

The Marine Strategy Forum will work with key delivery partners including: Scottish Environment Protection Agency; Scottish Natural Heritage; Scottish Fishermen's Federation; COSLA; Scottish Environment Link; Scottish Renewables; Historic Scotland; Maritime and Coastguard Agency; British Ports; Scottish Boating Alliance; Scottish Coastal Forum; Scottish Enterprise / Highlands and Islands Enterprise.

MS will also work with the JNCC and SNH to deliver Scotland's marine conservation responsibilities in relation to off-shore and territorial waters conservation respectively.

This Forum is tasked with ensuring the alignment of policies, priorities and activities between these bodies to deliver better integrated stewardship.

Mission Statement

The Marine Strategy Statement has four key missions relating to the delivery of sustainable seas for all. These are:

  • evidence-based policy development and marine planning;
  • streamlined licensing and consenting;
  • sound science; and
  • effective compliance monitoring and enforcement.

Marine Planning and Licensing

Marine planning is one of the key new roles for MS and its roles and responsibilities in this respect are to be set out in the forthcoming Scottish Marine Bill.

The Strategy does, however, confirm that MS will be the responsible authority for marine planning and will advise Ministers on policies and plans, in consultation with the stakeholders listed above.

MS will, for the remainder of 2009-2010, continue to deliver the Scottish Government's existing marine regulatory functions. It is expected that some early administrative actions to streamline application and licensing processing for applicants will be taken.

The first of these appears to be that, as of the 1st April 2009, MS will administer all marine consents that are currently required for a number of activities, including certain aspects of offshore renewables (although currently only in territorial waters as a devolved power). MS will coordinate views from other relevant bodies or parts of Scottish Government where more than one approval is required.

Marine Scotland and Compliance

The Scottish Fisheries Protection Agency will form the core of the compliance arm of MS which is to take a wider, lead role in co-ordinating compliance monitoring activity. The role that MS will play in compliance activity relating to nature conservation and marine development licensing is yet to be finalised however.

Next Steps

This initial Marine Strategy Statement is to be followed up by a forward looking strategic plan as of 1st April 2010.

Although this Strategy is a step in the right direction it is being left to the Scottish Marine Bill to set out the detailed roles, responsibilities and workings of MS. Only time will tell how streamlined the consenting process will actually be, whether an "activity" or an "impact" approach to consenting is to be adopted for offshore development and indeed what the proposals for appeals and representations are to be.