David Attenborough recently brought the issue of the sustainability of marine resources to all our attention. A Marine Plan is a framework document and a tangible step towards sustainable seas.
Over many years there have been increasing and multiple pressures in coastal waters from dredging, windfarms, communications cables, pipelines, bottom trawling, shipping, leisure activities and many other activities. Much of this activity was insufficiently regulated and often uncharted, with a lack of formal channels of communication between either authorities or perpetrators, and with little thought to sustainability. The associated infrastructure can blight our coastline if cooperation in good planning is lacking. The Solent in particular is under pressure from increased development, both marine and terrestrial.
Concern as to the sustainable use of natural resources worldwide, the decline of biodiversity, food security and climate change led to the ground breaking UN “Earth Summit” in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 where the Convention on Biological Diversity (also known as the Biodiversity Convention or CBD) was adopted. It entered into force in December 1993. The Biodiversity Convention, to which the UK was a Party, was the first global treaty to provide a legal framework for biodiversity and conservation. Part of this Convention laid the foundation for a worldwide process of Marine Planning to promote sustainable use of marine resources and to halt the decline in biodiversity. The UK commitment to the Biodiversity Convention marine initiative is embodied in the Marine and Coastal Access Act (2009), Parts 1, 2 and 3 of which covers Marine Planning. The UK coastline was divided into tranches and an inshore and offshore Marine Plan was created in each tranche. The South Inshore Marine Plan, which covers the Solent area, became law on 17th July 2018.
Marine Plans are not development documents such as terrestrial Local Plans. They are policy documents. In respect of the South Marine Plan, stakeholders were invited to consultations and workshops to discuss the desired strength of each policy so that a sensible, effective and acceptable level of governance and management could be achieved. Comment on the policies and their local effects, as well as The Solent Protection Society’s role in the consultation process, is covered by another article in this newsletter. Geographically, the South Marine Plan area stretches for 1000 kilometres of coastline from Folkestone to the River Dart. It is one of the most complex and used areas of the English coastline. As elsewhere, there are separate offshore and inshore sections.
To understand the concept of the Marine Plan more clearly, it is worth examining the legislative steps from the “Rio” Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) to where we are today. There are many daughter conventions to the UN “Rio” Convention on Biodiversity (1992) and the more significant conventions relevant to Marine Planning include the OSPAR Convention (1998) which is the UN Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North East Atlantic under which authority the UK marine area falls, and also the more familiar UNCLOS (1982), the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.
Nineteen years after the “Rio” Convention, the UK Marine and Coastal Access Act (2009) created a new Agency within Defra called the Marine Management Organisation (MMO).
The MMO operates as the competent marine planning authority on behalf of UK Government, delivering marine functions in English territorial waters. The MMO has overall responsibility for Marine Planning, Licensing, Environment, Marine Conservation Zones and Marine Protected Areas, Fisheries (offshore and inshore), and enforcement. It carries out these duties with advice from other appropriate government agencies, mainly within Defra, such as the Environment Agency or Natural England, depending on the relevant issue.
Confusion may arise between the United Nations initiative (UN OSPAR Convention etc.) behind Marine Planning, and European Directives (where transposed into UK law) which are used to enforce the actions of the MMO, for instance the use of the Habitats Directive (UK Habsregs 2010) to enforce Marine Conservation Zones.
Further confusion may have arisen in July 2018 when the South Marine Plan became law just as Defra was consulting on the designation of Marine Conservation Zones, two of which are in the Solent area, the subject of another article in the Newsletter. To explain the relationship between the two issues, we have to return to the Marine and Coastal Access Act (2009) where, as already mentioned, Parts 1,2 and 3 deal with the creation of the MMO and Marine Planning, while Part 5 covers Nature Conservation. This Part 5 gives the ultimate responsibility for the enforcement of the Marine Conservation Zones to the MMO, although the advisory agency for the science behind MCZs lies elsewhere in Defra, namely Natural England. The MMO also has the mandate to create local regulations where habitats may be suffering damage, and when considered necessary.
The Marine and Coastal Access Act (2009) also gives responsibility to the MMO for all Marine Licensing between High Water and the extent of UK waters. There was a need to clarify and simplify marine licensing and the MMO has responsibility to speed up decisions and to introduce transparency into the system by publishing all marine licensing requests. Marine licensing applications can be found on the MMO website. The overlap with Local Authorities between HW and LW was a deliberate ploy to require Local Authorities and the MMO to cooperate in the tidal zone. Under the Marine and Coastal Access Act (2009) the MMO also holds ultimate responsibility for fisheries management and enforcement. Inshore Fishing Conservation Authorities (IFCAs) have been created to manage and enforce fisheries. At sea, IFCA vessels may assist other patrol boats with for enforcement on different issues, including the contravention of regulations regarding MCZs.
Part 9 of the Marine and Coastal Access Act concerns Coastal Access and the Coastal Path.
The South Marine Plan is the second Marine Plan to be created in English waters (the Eastern Marine Plan was the first), and its birth seems to have been long and complex. The initiative brings together the plethora of authorities and stakeholders for whom MMO has a duty to provide a “one stop shop” to coordinate the many authorities and demands on our waters.
There may be teething problems but the future of this initiative is encouraging.