Marine Planning Workshop, Southampton

The staff of the Marine Management Organisation( MMO) seemed a little stunned at the complexity of the Southern Area for which they are now embarking on a marine planning process. This was one of a series of such workshops being held across the South Coast region.

Some local people at the workshop felt that they gained little from participation. That was probably inevitable because the process was essentially about the MMO listening to local people. It is a process they have to go through. But it is a pity that the shape of things to come was not more evident, based on the East Coast experience, where the Plan development is a year further on, and that the opportunity was not taken to explain the benefits of marine planning.

If MMO had not set up a session aimed mainly at listening, they would have been subjected to severe criticism. So, stuck between a rock and a hard place, they probably did a good job, and the MMO staff presenting the feedback from the breakout sessions gave a polished performance. We shall only know when we see the feedback.

MMO are clearly committed to using social media as a means of communicating. In fact, they are quite good at it! They did reveal some new resources. The MMO Portal is a fascinating and useful resource. Once logged in it is possible to view our area with all the various environmental designations and other attributes (according to which ones you select) shown. The only surprising aspect is that RSPB reserves are shown. Why pick on one non-statutory NGO? Could it be their immense budget? And the threat of judicial review? Other organisations might resent this special treatment.

Some old chestnuts still plague the planning process. Top of the list is how to deal with cumulative effects of projects. When questioned about this, MMO could do little more than admit that they were struggling with this issue. How do you make a planning decision when faced with looking at the impact of a project in an area where there are other applications and consents for projects that may or may not go ahead? Not easy! But that is why they are there. They need to do better.