On 14 July 2008, the Scottish Executive issued their latest consultation document on the marine environment entitled: Sustainable seas for all: a consultation on Scotland's first marine bill. This move follows in line with the publication of the UK's draft Marine Bill on 3 April 2008. A major question is whether the Scottish Marine Bill will be able to adopt an independent and coherent strategy of the Scottish marine environment in view of the jurisdictional problems of ownership over the UK's waters?

Background

The North Sea is very rich in its marine resources, with extensive plans for the development of offshore renewable energy resources, and the continuous role of the offshore oil and gas industry as a major contributor to the UK's Treasury and importantly the economy of Scotland. However managing marine resources is not without its conflicts; with issues of jurisdictional overlap between London and Scotland and the need to balance and protect the many uses to which the seas and coasts are exposed. Recent studies however showed that there was a need for a coherent strategy for the management of Scotland's marine environment, to better support competing demands, and find an effective balance of interests in a way that is integrated, without over-regulation.

A new legislative framework for the marine environment

The consultation recommends a new legislative and management framework designed to support the economic development of the marine environment including proposals for the establishment of durable conditions for investment, a decrease in regulatory bureaucracy and the involvement of affected local communities.

A new organisation, Marine Scotland, will be created tasked with the responsibility for marine management. Marine Scotland will coordinate the implementation of Scotland's national marine strategy, alongside a new statutory system of marine planning, which will identify separate frameworks and priorities at national and local levels. Locally, Scottish Marine Regions will be created, representing local interests and involving local authorities and existing organisations and structures, to determine and deliver local strategies and objectives and administer.

Marine planning and management

Included in the proposals is a new statutory marine planning system intended to balance, coordinate and integrate the many uses of marine resources, and the various interests using them. Such a system in Scotland could apply to all devolved areas of activity in the marine environment, including:

  • tourism and recreation
  • marine renewables
  • obligations relating to biodiversity
  • ports and harbours
  • nature conservation
  • sea and inshore fisheries
  • pipelines and cables
  • aquaculture
  • extraction of sand and gravel and
  • marine licensing and environmental regimes

Marine Scotland's principal functions will be:

  • to collect and co-ordinate marine data, and marine science strategy
  • to have prime responsibility for marine planning, integrated marine consents, marine management, compliance monitoring and nature conservation, and
  • to co-ordinate aquaculture, marine renewable consents and management of marine and coastal areas

all with the objective of ensuring that the seas around Scotland are used sustainably and that increased economic growth results.

Reducing the burden on Development

Coastal and marine development often suffers from the time it takes to produce necessary licences and consents. It is intended that these systems should be modernised and procedures streamlined, by combining the planning and licensing requirements, making the process faster and more attuned to the requirements of prospective developers; providing an improved understanding of appropriate uses of particular sites, and resulting in clearer decisions.

Long term planning for the future within a cohesive structure will mean that developers and investors can forward plan with confidence. Marine renewables are likely to be a priority, and the modernisation and streamlining of systems should significantly ameliorate the administrative burden on developers of renewable energy projects and support effective exploitation of coastal and offshore wind power and wave power within a focused framework. Marine Scotland's role would include coordination of marine renewables consents.

Renewable energy sources

Scotland is well placed to generate energy from a plentiful supply of offshore renewable sources, and the Scottish Government has already provided significant financial support for development of technology in this area. The country's established expertise in offshore engineering for the oil and gas industries means that we have an existing skilled workforce able to apply those skills to other offshore applications with comparative ease, and take advantage of the emerging global market for energy from renewable sources.

Conservation and science

Preservation and protection of Scotland's marine ecosystem, wildlife and habitats are key to sustaining a healthy and productive marine environment to support sustainable economic growth. Among the proposals in the consultation document are mechanisms for the safeguarding of marine sites, which will include the ability to designate areas as Marine Protected Areas, which can be used to protect species, habitats or ecosystems, to benefit fisheries management, or to protect historical sites such as areas where shipwrecks are located.

The commissioning, collection and processing of reliable and useful scientific data and research is an essential element in the provision of a sustainable marine environment. The consultation paper outlines the Government's proposals for developing strategy relating to the production of scientific insight and data, which can assist in improving our understanding of natural coastal and marine processes.

The consultation process

Views are invited on the proposals contained in the consultation document, Sustainable Seas for all: a consultation on Scotland's first marine bill, by 6 October 2008.