The South Marine Plan in a wider context

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.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAOver 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.

Annex to the report on changes to the South Marine Plan

Following on from our report on the South Marine Plan becoming law, we have made further analysis of the detail.  In brief the changes on which SPS may have had some influence would seem to be:

  1. Vision amended to be more relevant to SMP area. (Vision)
  2. More information on the Coastal Concordant. This may relate to our concern that local authority boundaries in the Solent did not meet up. (General considerations)
  3. Additional text on monitoring. (We had suggested 3 years was too frequent)
  4. Wording on aquaculture to define it as ‘sustainable’ not just any aquaculture. (Obj 1)
  5. No restriction on dredging for ports and harbours. We were concerned there should be no extraction in the Solent. (Obj 1)
  6. Wording to make clear that land based infrastructure must be ‘appropriate’. (Obj 2)
  7. Wording on employment to make clear the skills and activities to be supported. (Obj 4)
  8. The words ‘enhance and promote’ related to Marine Protected Areas. We had been concerned that these do not displace traditional use so may be the reverse of our comment, though from an ecological point of view we would support it. (Obj 5)
  9. Climate change defined as ‘greenhouse gas emissions.’ We had asked for clarification in the technical annex. (Obj 7)
  10. We had asked for the view from the sea to be specifically stated however the wording has not been changed. (Obj 9)
  11. MPAs. Wording added to ‘enhance and promote’ and to ensure boundaries can be changed until such time as all Marine Conservation Zones are confirmed. (Obj 10)
  12. Reference to the government’s litter strategy added. (Obj 11)
  13. Some ‘enhance’ text added on biodiversity though no specific mention of salt marshes as we had suggested. (Obj 12)
  14. Support for re-use of material. (Obj 12)
  15. More emphasis on water quality and moved to be under Obj 11 to add weight. (Obj 12)
  16. More strength and clarification given on the use of the hierarchical format of a) to c) or d). for each policy. We were concerned that the weighting appeared equal and in certain cases considered more emphasis should be given to avoid.

The South Marine Plan finally becomes law

In July 2018 the government finally approved the draft South Marine Plan (SMP) on which The Solent Protection Society (SPS) and many others had commented in early 2017 and which was covered in last year’s newsletter.1.1 South Marine Plan PHOTO of Southampton Docks

With the final plan, the Marine Management Organisation also published a Modifications report, setting out the changes that had been made in the light of the comments made.

Overall, as expected, there has been no significant change to the 12 main objectives or the 50+ individual policies. There has, however, been a change in emphasis or clarification on about 20 of the policies and on 7 of the general principles such as the Vision and the relationship to land based plans.

Eighty one organisations or individuals commented, generating over 1500 comments. Of these 81 organisations, some 50% came from 21 local authorities, 12 Ports and Shipping and 9 NGOs. We assume SPS was counted as an NGO but no breakdown is given.

We were asked to agree, or agree with comment, or disagree, with the 75 questions asked about the objectives and policies. Overall the percentage of respondents answering yes, no or no comment showed 58% agreed, 18% agreed subject to comment, 6% disagreed and 18 % gave no response.

In SPS’s case we agreed with 43% of the policies and commented on 57%. We did not disagree with any, nor did we not respond to any question.

This perhaps reflects the fact SPS has a broad range of interests in the SMP area, whereas many organisations are from a particular sector and focus. For example, referring to the second reference below, it is not clear exactly what the pie chart is showing… is it the % of respondents or the % of questions answered in a particular way.  So did we have any influence?

It is difficult to say as there is no direct correlation and the modifications report does not show the exact changes to wording on each policy. This requires a detailed-reading of the final Plan itself and the Technical Annex.

We had sought to make the vision more relevant to the Solent area and while supporting aquaculture we did not want a free for all. In both cases there have been changes of emphasis.

Other policies on which we may have helped to get a change in emphasis related to land based infrastructure, support for small scale marine industries, litter prevention, bio diversity and water quality.

The South Marine Plan is now an important consideration for both Marine Licence applications and land-based planning applications on the coastline of the UK. Any application must be judged against the policies in the plan and if it cannot comply fully, must demonstrate how it mitigates the impact. If this is insufficient then it is likely to be refused.

Judgement on Marine Licence applications falls to the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) in consultation with various statutory bodies and government departments. The public can also comment, although the process of finding out about applications is not as easy as it should be.

Within its area of concern SPS now monitors all applications monthly and more information can be found elsewhere on this site.

The South Marine Plan can be found at this link.

The Modifications report can be viewed by selecting this link.

MCZs – Tranche 2

MCZs: Defra consultation on the second tranche.

The Solent Protection Society welcomes the Marine Conservation Zone initiative and considers that MCZs will greatly benefit the environs and ecology of the Solent, provided that designation and enforcement are based on sound science and wise management.

On Friday 30th January, Defra announced the consultation on the second tranche of MCZs which includes the Needles recommended MCZ. The three other Solent rMCZs – Bembridge, Norris to Ryde, and Cowes to Yarmouth – are likely to be consulted on for designation in the third tranche.

The Consultation document for the second (2015) tranche can be found at this link to the Defra website and is to be completed and submitted on the internet.

Regarding Bembridge, Norris to Ryde and Cowes to Yarmouth rMCZs, Defra has concluded that further engagement with key stakeholders was required in order to quantify the social and economic effects of designation. Details of the Needles rMCZ and of the various issues requiring clarification in the other MCZs can be found on the website mentioned above – scroll down the page below the link to the start of the consultation and you will find a list. Click on the appropriate MCZ of your choice.

The Solent Protection Society continues to work with Defra to achieve a balance between the benefits of marine conservation in our pressurised and highly populated Solent waters and a conservation management regime which is acceptable to those engaged in both business and leisure activities in these waters.