In our March 2014 Bulletin we discussed the proposals for a new Maritime Spatial Planning Directive (the Directive). On 23 July 2014, the Council of the European Union adopted the Directive. We now look at its key features and some of the practical implications that will flow from its adoption.

Objectives

As demand upon the world’s marine space rapidly grows, so too does the scope for conflict between competing maritime users. With an estimated increase of 50% by 2030 in maritime transport alone, it is ever more important to co-ordinate these interests and promote sustainable growth.

The Directive hopes to achieve this through the management of competing maritime and coastal activities such as fishing, shipping, maritime infrastructures such as cables, pipelines, shipping lanes and oil, gas and wind installations, both nationally and at a cross-border level.

Through the Directive, the European Commission hopes to:

  • Reduce conflicts between sectors by creating clear, predictable and transparent rules.
  • Secure the energy supply for the EU by encouraging investment in renewable energy sources, oil and gas.
  • Promote the development of cost effective shipping routes across Europe.
  • Increase coordination between Member States and reduce red tape in cross-border planning.
  • Foster sustainable development and growth of fisheries and aquaculture.
  • Protect and improve the environment by establishing marine protected areas.

The Directive forms part of the EU’s long term Blue Growth strategy as one of the essential components to develop maritime knowledge and ensure legal certainty in the maritime economy.

What is new?

While the Directive does not introduce any substantive legal changes, it does prescribe certain minimum requirements. As a minimum, EU Member States must produce both maritime spatial plans (MSPs) and integrated coastal management (ICM) strategies. Both MSPs and ICM strategies stop short of imposing any new environmental policy targets and are largely procedural in nature. Many countries including Germany, France, the Netherlands and the UK have in fact pre-empted the implementation of the MSP Directive and already have maritime planning systems in place.

MSPs are arrangements which set out how, when and where maritime space is allocated and identify the most effective way of managing these activities. This will include mapping out areas closed to fishing or other human activities, designating precautionary areas, security zones and marine protected areas. MSPs will also set prescribed areas for specific uses such as wind farms, military operations, sand and gravel mining, waste disposal and maritime transportation.

The ICM strategy is a mechanism to co-ordinate all policy processes affecting coastal zones. The Directive obliges Member States to produce and keep an inventory of existing measures applied in coastal zones and analyse whether any additional actions are needed to achieve their objectives.

Implementation

Member States will have to designate competent authorities who will be responsible for implementing and monitoring the application of the Directive. Those States that have already developed planning systems are free to continue operating through their existing management bodies and under existing plans, provided the minimum requirements are met. In the UK for example, these responsibilities are likely to remain with the Marine Management Organisation.

In preparing MSPs and ICM strategies, the competent authorities will need to establish a means of public participation. This means that interested parties must be consulted on the draft plans and strategies, including the publication of review results.

Stakeholders will naturally be concerned with how, when and where the competent authorities are defining important environmental and ecological areas and to what extent their interests might be restricted. It is therefore highly important that stakeholders actively engage in the processes to ensure that both their existing and future interests are represented.

Given the nature of the activities concerned, a central element of the Directive is minimising cross-border conflicts over marine use. Part of the role of these competent authorities will be to ensure effective trans-boundary co-operation between Member States, national authorities and relevant stakeholders. It is hoped that this co-operation will build on the successes of existing transnational organisations, such as OSPAR in the North-East Atlantic.

As part of this requirement, and in order to plan effectively, competent authorities will have to collect and share data to ensure that their MSPs are not in conflict with those of other States. The mechanisms used for this information sharing have not been prescribed in the Directive, so how this will work in practice remains to be seen.

EU Member States must transpose these new rules into their national laws by 2016, and draw up national maritime spatial plans by 2021. MSP and ICM strategies will then have to be reviewed every six years.

Impact

In the face of growing demand for Europe’s marine space, a framework for co-ordinated and consistent decision making is to be welcomed. From a stakeholder perspective these plans will, for the first time in many cases, address competing interests together. Inherently this will provide greater certainty for those setting trade routes or requiring approvals for exploration and energy projects.

Some doubt still remains over how effective trans-boundary co-operation will be where national interests are in conflict and indeed how such conflicts will be resolved. We will continue to monitor the situation and report on developments in this area.