Harnessing Our Ocean Wealth – An Integrated Marine Plan for Ireland (2012) sets out the Government’s Vision, High-Level Goals, and 39 Key Actions the Government will take to put in place the appropriate policy, governance and business climate to enable our marine potential to be realised 1. An Enablers Task Force on Marine Spatial Planning was appointed by the Marine Coordination Group in December 2012 on foot of a governance action included in Harnessing Our Ocean Wealth. This short-medium term action is to develop an appropriate maritime spatial planning (MSP) framework for Ireland within which the scope and objectives of an overarching national marine spatial plan will be defined. Five Departments which have a marine policy and/or a regulatory role and the Office of the Attorney General were represented on the Task Force. Areas examined by the Task Force included:
- Emerging EU policy in relation to maritime spatial planning;
- The need for any further legislative changes that may be required to support a national maritime spatial planning framework;
- International best practice on developing integrated marine planning and licensing, benchmarking Ireland’s marine regulatory framework; and
- A national maritime spatial planning capacity and responsibility for data coordination and exchange.
The Task Force benefited greatly from a number of expert presentations, video conferences and discussions, including liaison with marine spatial organisations in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The Task Force also benefited from two research studies commissioned on its behalf by the Marine Institute:
- A study on the legal aspects of marine spatial planning, undertaken by an inter-disciplinary team of planners and barristers (MacCabe Durney Barnes; UCD Planning School; and the University of Aberdeen), and
- A review of international best practice in marine spatial planning, carried out by Dr. Wesley Flannery, Queen’s University Belfast.
Marine spatial planning (MSP) is normally a statutory process carried out by public authorities. It involves extensive consultation, and employs Geographic Information Systems to collate and analyse spatial data relating to the uses, current and potential, of marine space and its goods and services. It seeks to manage, in an integrated and neutral manner, the spatial and temporal demands of the full range of marine sectoral policy objectives, the interaction between human activities and their pressures on the environment and to ensure effective linkages with terrestrial (land use) spatial planning. It is important to emphasise that MSP is the process that delivers marine spatial plans and requires the involvement of policy makers, statutory bodies, stakeholders and the general public in their preparation, implementation, monitoring and review.
The Task Force believes that the implementation of MSP in Ireland would deliver the following benefits:
- Contribute to vision and goals set out in Harnessing Our Ocean Wealth and in the EU’s Integrated Maritime Plan. These include coherent and integrated marine planning and management and public participation, aimed at delivering a thriving sustainable maritime economy based on healthy, clean and productive marine ecosystems.
- Provide greater certainty for State bodies, investors, NGOs and the general public, resulting in an improved investment environment, lower transaction costs and improved timescales for project delivery.
- Reduce the risk of and from legal challenges to regulatory decisions through robust environmental assessment of marine spatial plans.
- Manage spatial conflicts, identify synergies and facilitate compliance with existing and proposed EU Directives (the Commission has proposed a Directive mandating statutory MSP systems for coastal Member States).
- Provide coordination with marine spatial plans being prepared by UK authorities for marine areas which adjoin our jurisdiction, notably in the Irish Sea.
The Task Force recommends a Framework for Marine Spatial Planning in Chapter 17. The following is a summary of the key points:
- A National Marine Spatial Plan should cover Ireland’s marine waters (see Fig. 10.1) at a broad strategic level, with more detailed plans being prepared subsequently at a sub-national level as required.
- In line with EU policy and international best practice MSP should be established in Ireland through primary legislation. This will require the establishment of a lead department to draft and enact legislation establishing the MSP Body and plan-making framework recommended by the ETF. Pending drafting and enactment of such legislation, a multi-disciplinary MSP Body should be created on a “shadow” basis to start establishing the processes and the plan itself.
- It is estimated that a National Marine Spatial Plan, including full consultation and environmental assessment in accordance with EU directives, could be adopted by the lead Minister within four years.
- Robust plans require a sound evidence base. A substantial amount of marine-related data and information already exists (such as Ireland’s Marine Atlas 2), and this provides a good platform for the preparation of the first marine spatial plan. An expert advisory group should be established to assist in filling any gaps.
- Marine spatial plans should aim for sustainable and efficient use of marine space by maximising multiple uses and where necessary for the management of conflicts or to highlight specific opportunities for potential investors the zoning for preferred uses.
- Meaningful and early consultation with all stakeholders, including the general public, is essential. Engagement with regulatory and consenting authorities, sectoral and environmental organisations, coastal local authorities and development bodies will contribute to the management of land-sea interactions, thus enabling the inclusion of marine-related opportunities in local and regional development plans.
- The initial focus should be on forward planning and the preparation of a National Marine Spatial Plan. A plan-led system facilitates greater consistency in decision-making. This requires that consent authorities are obliged to have regard to relevant spatial policies and objectives set out in the plan.
- The Task Force is aware that as part of the wider reform and efficiency agenda, public bodies are continuing to bring about positive changes to a variety of marine licensing and consent processes, and recommends that further streamlining of such processes should be undertaken by Departments and agencies while the national marine spatial plan is being prepared and adopted. The report sets out suggested criteria to guide this process. Ultimately, consideration can be given to devolving responsibility for some marine consents/licences to a designated MSP body, in order to maximise synergies between marine plan preparation and implementation.
Finally, it is important that marine spatial plans remain responsive to changing circumstances; implementation should be carefully monitored, and the plans reviewed periodically.