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This publication is available at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/marine-plan-user-guide/marine-plan-user-guide
1. What are marine plans?
Marine plans are statutory plans that guide and inform how English marine plan areas are used and developed.
Marine plans support the delivery of government’s vision for ‘clean, healthy, safe, productive and biologically diverse oceans and seas’ (Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009). They inform and guide regulation and the management, use and protection of English seas, coastline and communities, enabling economic activity whilst protecting important features and marine ecosystems.
There are 11 English marine plan areas covering inshore (up to 12nm) and offshore (12 to 200nm) waters. Their boundaries include the mean high water spring mark and the tidal extent of an estuary.
Marine plans inform which developments and activities should be encouraged or avoided through area specific objectives and associated policies. They also outline any other factors or legislation that should be considered in decision making. Due to the fluid nature of water and the complexities of the marine ecosystem each marine area has a strong relationship with its neighbouring plan area.
The Marine Management Organisation (MMO)is responsible for the development of marine plans. The Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has overall responsibility as the marine plan authority for England.
2. Who should use a marine plan?
Marine plans apply to all decisions within or affecting the marine area (Section 58 of the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009). They should be used by anyone who has an interest in the marine area, from public authorities to developers. Marine plans are particularly relevant to public authorities as they have a statutory obligation to make decisions in accordance with the marine plans.
Marine plans should be used for a range of decisions from planning consent to licensing. For example, the MMO uses the marine plans to inform its decisions on:
- marine licensing
- marine compliance and enforcement
- fisheries management and effort control
- business relations team (European Fisheries Funding)
- coastal operations
As it is not possible to identify all scenarios where marine plans might be applied, no ‘lower threshold’ has been set, however they should be applied in a proportional manner.
3. Developing the plans
The MMO is responsible for producing English marine plans.
The marine plans are developed in consultation with stakeholders, including two points of public consultation (statement of public participation and draft plans). Marine plan boundaries, objectives and policies are set using a strong evidence base and following expert advice and public consultation.
There are 12 stages to developing a marine plan from selection to implementation to monitoring. The East Marine Plan was adopted in April 2014. The South Marine Plan is currently at the plan policy development stage, with a 10 week public consultation expected to take place in early 2016.
Unlike terrestrial plans, marine plans are not required to undergo examination in public, but they may be subject to independent investigation if the Secretary of State identifies an ‘outstanding issue’.
4. When to use the plans - public authorities
Public authorities must use marine plans for decisions on all proposals (new, revised or extensions) which are either within or affecting a marine plan area (Section 58 of the Marine and Coastal Access Act). The marine plan areas are:
- inshore marine area 0 to 12nm
- offshore marine area of 12 to 200nm
- up to mean high water spring mark and/or the tidal extent of an estuary
As marine plans may potentially be relevant far from the coastline, public authorities must have regard for marine plans when preparing local plans.
Draft marine plans should be considered in decision making and enforcement, but are not a determining factor for public authorities.
It is the responsibility of each public authority to determine where and when they should consider marine plans in decision making to satisfy Section 58 of the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009.
As independent decision makers, public authorities are not required to consult with the MMO when making a decision in accordance with marine plans. Public authorities are encouraged to engage with the MMO at an early stage when considering relevant proposals to support the integration of marine and terrestrial plans. Contact marine planning for more information.
5. When to use the plans - applicants
Marine plans should be used for proposals and applications for any new or existing development or activity within or affecting a marine plan area.
Marine plans do not affect any current marine licenses or decisions relating the marine area. However, they should be used for any changes or additions to existing developments or activities are needed.
A proposal should demonstrate how it complies with marine plans and must demonstrate consideration of the relevant plans and policies. Public authorities have a responsibility to make an informed decisions in accordance with, or in regard to, section 58 of the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009. They will be looking for evidence that marine plans have been considered, and are likely to request additional information if it is not available.
It is beneficial to consider the relevant marine plan policies at the pre-application stage. To support this, the appropriate decision making team should be contacted, such as the MMO marine licensing team or the local council.
In summary, a proposal should:
- consider marine plan policies at the pre-application stage
- consider the plan as a whole - it is likely that several plan policies will relate to the proposal
- incorporate marine plan policy assessment using existing assessments, such as supporting assessments and evidence provided for relevant applications under The Marine Works (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations 2007 (as amended)
Proposals also must comply with the requirements of Section 58 (3) of the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009, if it may affect a marine plan area, even if the development or activity is outside of the plan area itself. This should be acknowledged for a proposal in the decision making process.
6. How to use the plans
Due to the geography, variety of activities and complex relationships between activities and marine ecosystems marine plans are substantial documents. It is important that all users consider all policies and supporting text, and not just those that are directly relevant, to ensure marine plans are interpreted correctly.
Marine plans are designed to be incorporated into existing decision making processes, such as plan policy development, formation of local plans or development. Individual authorities are best placed to identify how marine plans can be considered within their current processes. The MMO has developed processes and mechanisms for its decision makers to use when assessing marine plans, which can be shared and discussed with other authorities.
6.1 The Marine Information System (MIS)
The Marine Information System (MIS) supports the implementation of the marine plans.
The MIS links all marine plans, their policies and supporting evidence in a digital format to simplify plans for users, making them more accessible. Using geographic information system (GIS) technology MIS displays the spatial extent and relevance of marine plan policies alongside supporting marine data.
The MIS complements the marine plan documents for the purposes of decision making and future plan production. In many cases additional site specific assessments will be required to inform proposals. Supplementary information and the marine planning evidence base are also available from the MMO and the Marine Planning Portal.
Public authorities may wish to include information layers in their own IT systems. This is possible for much of the data, however not all datasets can be released into the public domain. To request a specific dataset please email email@example.com.
6.3 The Coastal Concordat
Where an application includes multiple consents, public authorities can use the Coastal Concordat. The Coastal Concordat is an inter-organisational agreement that helps simplify the consenting process through rationalising the requirements of multiple organisations. More information is available from the implementation document and the agreement. A list of authorities who have adopted the concordat is also available. If a public authority wishes to adopt the concordat, contact Amanda Furlonger on 020 7238 6830.
For more information on marine plans and how to use them contact a local marine officers: