Marine Licensing: impact assessments

Information on impact assessement requirements for marine licence applications

This guidance was withdrawn on

revised content

Marine licence applications will be assessed so that we can understand the likely impacts of the proposed activities.

The Environmental Impact Assessment Directive requires that certain types of project with the potential to significantly affect the environment have an environmental impact assessment (EIA) before a licence decision is made.

Some specific parts of the marine area benefit from protection in law including marine conservation zones (MCZs), European protected sites and protected species’ habitats.

Laws and regulations also exist to protect the whole environment from particular types of harm, and these measures include the Water Framework Directive (WFD) and Waste Framework Directive (WaFD).

You, the applicant, must supply sufficiently high quality information to allow Marine Management Organisation (MMO) to make a decision about environmental impact. MMO can advise before you apply on the evidence required.

Evidence and data used at any stage is subject to MMO quality assessment procedures.

Environmental impact assessment

If a project is likely to have a significant effect on the environment, an EIA must be carried out before a licence can be granted. The aims of an EIA are to protect the environment and allow the public to play a part in making decisions.

When working with other authorities, MMO will follow the principles of the coastal concordat. If a project requires both a marine licence and planning permission from the local planning authority, MMO may defer to their decision. In these situations, MMO would not be able to make a marine licence decision until the local planning authority had made their decision regarding EIA.

MMO checks all applications to assess them for the potential to require an EIA.

There are five stages in an EIA, details of each stage are given below. You can proceed straight to assessment (stage 3), but MMO recommends that before you apply you discuss the project with them and any other regulators and request advice (stages 1 and 2).

Stage 1: Screening

You can request a screening opinion any time before you submit an application. A screening request allows the MMO to decide whether an EIA is necessary. MMO can only give a screening opinion when requested to do so.

If a licence application is submitted without a screening opinion or an EIA, but MMO considers that the project has the potential to require an EIA, the application will be placed on hold and you will be directed to request a screening opinion. MMO cannot deal with the licence application until the screening opinion has been given.

Activities that require an EIA are listed in Annex I of the EIA Directive. For example (but not limited to):

  • nuclear power stations
  • trading ports
  • piers that can take vessels over 1,350 tonnes

Activities listed in Annex II of the EIA Directiverequire an EIA if they are likely to have significant effects on the environment. This includes projects such as:

  • reclaiming land from the sea
  • extracting minerals by dredging
  • installations that produce electricity
  • wind farms
  • shipyards
  • port and harbour installations not listed in Annex I
  • coastal work to combat erosion, for example, moles and jetties

Stage 2: Scoping opinion

If your project requires an EIA, you may wish to agree with MMO the extent and content (scope) of the assessment that will take place.

For help with scoping, you can request a scoping opinion and you must provide:

  • a chart, plan or map sufficient to identify the location of the activities during the project
  • a brief description of the nature and purpose of the project and its possible effects on the environment
  • information about any related applications to another authority

MMO may consider that consultation with stakeholders may also be required.

Stage 3: Consultation

MMO is required to have a formal period of public consultation before deciding a marine licence application. This will include a 42-day period during which members of the public may make representations about an application.

Stage 4: Considering the environmental statement

As the applicant you must supply an environmental statement. There is no required format but it must include the information set out in Schedule 3 to the Marine Works (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations 2007

You can request that MMO review the draft environmental statement before submitting your licence application.

MMO produces an EIA consent decision which is placed on the MMO public register and sent to you directly and to:

  • any person who made a representation
  • anyone that responded to the consultation
  • the authorities of any European Economic Area state who were consulted

The EIA consent decision includes an explanation and reference to the environmental information considered. It will also set out measures:

  • that must be taken to avoid, reduce and, if possible, offset the principal adverse effects of the licensed activity (mitigation measures)
  • required to monitor risk or extent of negative impact, or the effectiveness of any mitigation measures

When reaching an EIA consent decision, MMO must take relevant legislation into account – see regulation 22 of the Marine Works (EIA) Regulations 2007 – as well as:

  • the application
  • the direct and indirect effects on the environment
  • any further information requested from the applicant
  • the outcome of dealing with representations
  • representations made by consultation bodies
  • consultations with authorities of other European Economic Area states

If EIA consent is given, a decision on whether to grant a marine licence can then be taken. If EIA consent is refused, the application may not be granted.

Marine conservation zone assessment

MMO will assess your licence application for impacts on MCZs.

To check whether your activity is within or near an MCZ, you can use the interactive map of marine protected areas.

Stage 1: Assessment

At stage 1, MMO considers whether there is a significant risk of the activity hindering the conservation objectives of an MCZ. If so, then you must consider whether there are other means of proceeding, like changing your methods or an alternative location. If there are no other means of proceeding then there is a stage 2 assessment.

Stage 2: Assessment

You must demonstrate that the benefit to the public of granting the licence outweighs the risk of damage to the environment and that you will carry out measures of equivalent environmental benefit to mitigate the damage.

MMO will work closely with you and statutory nature conservation bodies to help to identify changes that can be made to bring an environmental benefit equivalent to the likely damage (compensatory measures). MMO may also request that you make proportionate environmental enhancement (that does not involve disproportionate cost).

Habitats Regulations assessment

MMO will assess your licence application for impacts on European and Ramsar sites.

If it is likely that your project will have a significant effect on a European site, MMO must make an appropriate assessment of the implications for that site in view of that site’s conservation objectives. MMO may then only grant a licence having decided that it will not adversely affect the integrity of the site, unless there are imperative reasons of overriding public interest.

You must provide sufficient information to allow us to undertake the necessary assessments. This will include:

  • the location of the project in relation to any European site
  • the interest features and conservation objectives of the European site
  • an indication of the means by which the plan or project could impact upon the conservation objectives and designated features of the site and a description of any such effects
  • the potential for impact in combination effects with other plans or projects
  • proposed mitigation measures

Water Framework Directive (WFD)

The sea from the mean low water mark up to 1 nautical mile from shore is protected under the WFD which requires that the licensed project or activity does not ‘cause deterioration in a water body’.

For licence applications in this zone, MMO must make sure that the marine licence decision is compatible with the WFD and any river basin management plan.

The Environment Agency is the competent authority for the WFD and it advises the MMO on WFD issues before a licensing decision is made. Its assessments and conclusions inform the MMO decision.

For marine licence applications for dredging activities, further guidance on the WFD can be found on the Environment Agency website

For further information on the implementation of the WFD see Defra ‘Improving Water Quality’ page

Waste Framework Directive (WaFD)

MMO must make sure that waste generated by the project or activity is dealt with in an environmentally friendly way before it can grant a licence. To do this it applies the waste hierarchy from the WaFD, which gives an order of preference for how waste is dealt with:

  • prevention –this can include not carrying out an activity and the refusal of a marine licence
  • re-use – finding an alternative, beneficial use for waste material
  • recycling –this can include making high grade products from waste material
  • other recovery - including treatment to alter the physical nature of the waste material
  • disposal at sea – this is the last resort

See ‘Guidance on applying the waste hierarchy’.

Published 1 July 2014