Details of how to apply for a marine licence, what documents you need to provide, how much it costs and how long it will take
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To apply for a marine licence, register on MMO’s online system and set up your online account.
A marine licence is required for many different types of activity. The Marine Management Organisation (MMO) is the licensing authority for England and for activities taking place from British vessels outside UK waters.
We aim to make a decision on most applications within 13 weeks of an application being validated. However, each application is different and some applications will take longer than this, while others will take less time.
We recover the cost of marine licensing by charging fees to licence applicants. We strongly encourage you to speak with us before submitting an application. This is particularly important if your project is likely to:
- require an environmental impact assessment (EIA)
- need an assessment under the Habitats Regulations
- affect the status of a water body under the Water Framework Directive
- generate waste covered under the Waste Regulations
We can advise you what information is required to support your application. This could include sampling and sediment analysis.
Your application will not be progressed until the required information has been provided and your application may be rejected if it does not contain all the information needed.
When you apply
Our marine licence application timeline gives an overview of the whole application process from allocation through to approval and monitoring.
To apply for a marine licence, register on MMO’s online system and set up your online account. You can then use your online account to submit a marine licence application. You can also submit:
- submit an enquiry
- notify us about an exempt activity
- request an EIA screening opinion
- request an EIA scoping requests
- request an environmental statement review
- request a sample plan, sediment analysis or laboratory validation
- request a variation to a marine licence
You can log in to check the progress of your application at any time.
After we receive your application we will need to validate it. We will check that:
- you need a marine licence for the activities you propose
- the application and any supporting documents are complete
- appropriate payment has been made
- all relevant information is provided
If further information is required to support your application, we will provide details of what is required and the timescale in which it should be received.
You will be advised of the payment band, or fee estimate for your application. You will have 14 days to accept or make the appropriate payment.
Failure to respond to these requests may result in us refusing to validate your application.
Note: If we refuse your application because you have not provided information required or accepted the fee estimate within the timeframes provided you will be required to resubmit your application once the requirements previously set out have been addressed. Once an application has been validated, we will aim to allocate your application within 7 days and start the process.
Assessing marine licence applications
We make decisions in accordance with the Marine Policy Statement and relevant marine plans, unless relevant considerations indicate otherwise. You can find information about marine plans on the Marine Information System. In deciding an application, we must consider all relevant matters including the need to:
- protect the environment
- protect human health
- prevent interference with legitimate uses of the sea.
In this context, the environment includes sites of historic or archaeological interest as well as natural habitats and species.
You (the applicant) are responsible for providing sufficient information with your application in order for us to assess it. This must include details about the activities you wish to carry out as well as information on the likely impacts associated with them.
There may be occasions where further information is required. If this is the case, we will provide details of what is required and the timescale in which it should be received. Failure to provide the information may result in a decision to refuse to proceed with your application. This is also relevant when payments for work completed are not received. We will also consider other relevant policies and plans and some applications may be subject to other forms of assessment.
We may consult interested parties about your application. This usually includes other public authorities and agencies and we will often consult the public too. If we do this, we may require you to place notices in national and local publications. More than one advert may be needed if an application is to be advertised under more than one piece of legislation or regulations.
We base our decisions on the best available evidence, but this information is rarely perfect. There may be a potential impact risk, but scientific uncertainty about exactly what this might be. The precautionary principle is applied when making licensing decisions in such circumstances and prevents a lack of scientific certainty to be used as a reason to postpone cost-effective measures to prevent environmental harm.
In certain circumstances the MMO can ask Defra Ministers if they want to hold a public inquiry and then decide an application themselves. You can find out more about how applications can be recovered from the MMO for decisions by Ministers.
Determining an application
Having assessed an application, we will either:
- grant the licence
- grant the licence subject to conditions
- refuse the application.
Conditions will often be used to mitigate adverse impacts to the environment, human health and other legitimate uses of the sea. These could include:
- timing restrictions being placed on activities
- detailed method statements being agreed before activities commence
- requirement to issue notices to mariners to inform users of activities
- restrictions on the materials that can be used
Conditions must be:
- related to the activity or development for which a marine licence is sought
We will set out a record of our reasons for refusing an application or applying any conditions to a licence. Find out more
Calculating estimates and controlling costs
You will receive an estimate of the maximum number of hours of casework required from MMO and Cefas staff members for all work needed before you apply and to complete Band 3 applications. The estimated hours are multiplied by the suitable hourly rate to give an estimated fee. You must accept the fee estimate and terms within 14 days of the quote before your application can progress. Failure to accept within this time period may result in your application being rejected.
Final charges invoiced by MMO are based upon actual hours, not the original estimate.
The staff time spent on your application is recorded accurately and this information is available to you; the Marine Case Management System has a visible display which shows ‘spend v estimate’ . Time is charged in units of 15 minutes with a minimum of 15 minutes for each item of work.
MMO case managers monitor your application weekly to assess how many more case hours are needed. If the estimated final cost is likely to be significantly different from the actual final cost, you will be notified in good time. You will also receive an explanation of the circumstances and an updated estimate. Action on your application may be halted until the revised estimate is accepted. Failure to accept a fee estimate within 14 days may result in a decision to refuse to progress you application.
When an application is complete and valid, MMO review the fee band again before the application is accepted.
After a decision is made
If a licence is granted, there may then be work to do to discharge conditions, like having detailed method statements approved before you start the activity. Failing to comply with a condition is a breach of your licence.
We may monitor changes in the environment resulting from your activities by requiring you to submit monitoring reports or by inspections or other means. Some monitoring reports, such as noise reports for piling activities, may need to be submitted while the activity is happening. Others may be required after the activity is completed, for example assessments of the success of mitigation measures.
Where we are required to carry out post consent monitoring of the licence, including any review or approval that is required, we may charge you a fee for that work. Where we propose to charge you such a fee we will we will provide you with an estimated cost before proceeding with consideration of your return.
After a decision has been made, you (the applicant) can appeal:
- a decision to not to grant a licence
- conditions attached to a licence
- the length of a licence
In England appeals are heard by the Planning Inspectorate (PINS) on behalf of the Secretary of State. Only the applicant can appeal a decision. However, a challenge in the courts by judicial review may be available to a third party.
You have 6 months from the date of the decision to notify PINS that you want to make a formal appeal stating your preferred procedure from:
- written representations
We will also be asked to indicate a preferred procedure and PINS will then decide which will be followed. The start date of the appeal is the date that we receive notification of this decision.
PINS then appoints an inspector on behalf of the Secretary of State to consider any appeal.
There are legal time limits for parts of the procedure that you and MMO must keep to. This is given in detail in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs guidance
The inspector may dismiss the appeal, or allow the appeal and quash our original decision in whole or in part. If the licensing decision is quashed, then we may be directed to grant a marine licence, or grant a licence subject to conditions defined by the appeal decision.
An appeal decision can be challenged by judicial review.
Both sides will normally be expected to pay their own expenses during an appeal. However, the inspector has the power to award costs to any party where a hearing or inquiry is held, or scheduled, but subsequently cancelled at a late stage. There is no provision for costs orders to be made in written representation cases.
The MMO encourages all outstanding issues or differences of opinion on an application to be resolved during the application process, which may save time and money for all sides if a formal appeal is avoided. If you are unhappy with a potential decision to refuse an application you can ask the MMO to carry out an internal review of the decision before it is formally issued.
Information on how your personal information will be processed for the purpose of marine licensing appeals is published in the Defra marine licensing privacy notice.
Vary, suspend or revoke a marine licence
Sometimes licence holders need to vary their licence because of a change in circumstances. If you need to vary your licence a request may be made using the marine case management system.
Any request for a variation to a licence should be made at least 3 months before change is required or at least 3 months before the licence end date as specified in section 1.3 of the licence.
Any request for a variation which does not allow sufficient time for us to fully consider and process the request before the licence end date passes will be rejected. We cannot vary a licence once the licence end date has passed.
Self-service licenses cannot be varied.
We can vary, suspend or revoke a marine licence without a request from you on any grounds such as:
- a breach of any conditions
- a change in circumstances relating to the environment or human health
- a change in scientific evidence
- navigational safety
You should be aware that you may also require other consents for your activities before they can be carried out.
For example, if your activity is in or next to a site of special scientific interest (SSSI), you may need consent from Natural England. Works taking place partly on land often require planning permission from the local planning authority. If there is a discharge of some kind an environmental permit from the Environment Agency may be needed.
All intrusive works on the seabed within 12 nautical miles of the coast are likely to require consent from the Crown Estate, along with some works outside 12 nautical miles. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for further information or clarification as to whether a small works consent is required. If consent is required, a short application form will need to be completed and the application will take up to 4 weeks to process.
It is your responsibility to ensure that you have all necessary consents in place before carrying out any activities.
Notifications of exempt activities
Some activities can be carried out without a licence under an exemption. Often these exemptions are subject to certain conditions that must be met before you carry out the activity. Further information on when a marine licence is needed, including where an exemption may apply, can be found on the Do I need a marine licence page.
One common condition is that you must notify MMO that you intend to carry out the activity before you do it. You can notify us by completing a notification of exemption form within our online system.
You should include details of how you will comply with any conditions associated with the exempt activity.
Marine Licensing Team
Please use the online system for all application related enquiries.
Support on using the online system can be provided by calling the Marine Management Organisation Licensing Team on 0300 123 1032 or emailing email@example.com
Please see the Licensing team’s Contacts page for a full list of contacts for specific activities.