The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) finally published the Marine Bill White Consultation Paper on 15 March 2007 with an opportunity to comment until 8 June 2007. The government hopes that the Bill will be tabled and passed by the current Parliament. Some marine functions are reserved for the UK Government while others are devolved to the regional administrations of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland and it will therefore be up to them to decide suitable approaches for the management of their territorial waters and the need for any new legislation.
The purpose of the Marine Bill is to provide an integrated approach to dealing with the marine environment including the establishment of a strategic system of marine planning and a balanced approach to conservation, energy and resources needs.
The five main but interrelated areas covered in the Marine Bill are:
# a new UK wide system of marine planning – providing a strategic approach to the use of the marine space. This approach to marine spatial planning should clearly set out priorities, guidance and environmental standards for the development and protection of marine resources.
# a new transparent and efficient marine licensing system for marine developments for marine dredging, carbon capture and storage, offshore renewable energy projects, cabling, harbours, and infrastructure projects under the 1992 Transport and Works Act.
# marine nature conservation including a new approach to marine conservation zones;
# management of marine fisheries including enhanced enforcement powers;
# the creation of a new Marine Management Organisation (MMO) to deliver marine policies and to deal with marine planning, licensing, fisheries management, conservation, monitoring and enforcement and marine data.
According to the Department of Environment, the Marine Bill White Paper would "raise planning for the management and protection of our seas to a world-leading level and it would give people the chance to help the Government do what is needed to effectively balance all of our marine needs and demands, and to achieve our vision for a clean, healthy, safe, productive, and biologically diverse marine environment." The Bill also recognises that "marine climate change will have important consequences for all elements of our marine environment, with significant impacts on the biological diversity, cleanliness and safety, and commercial productivity of our seas." The UK Offshore Operators Association (UKOOA), the representative body for offshore oil and gas producers, welcomed the Marine Bill (including the government's commitment to secure the right balance between environmental, social and economic objectives). UKOOA also supports the concept of a new UK-wide system of marine planning as a means of providing greater certainty to business planning as long as it does not delay government approval for new offshore oil and gas exploration and production projects. According to UKOOA, there is little conflict between oil and gas extraction and the protection of the marine environment.
Others expect more comments on the Bill from environmentalists and the renewable energy industry involved in offshore renewable energy projects.