Marine planning and development

The 12-stage process on how a marine plan is made from selection to implementation and monitoring and how you can get involved.

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Marine planning wheel

How a marine plan is made: Marine planning process

1. Select plan area

The Marine Management Organisation (MMO) considers how much information is available in the area and what this tells us about how a marine plan could benefit the plan area. MMO considers:

  • how ready the relevant interested people are to take part in the process
  • existing coastal partnerships – groups of interested people and organisations
  • important environmental zones in the plan areas
  • future pressures on the marine area
  • how inshore and offshore plan areas work together
  • how the marine plan would work alongside / coordinate with planning on land

2. Agree how and when interested people will be involved

MMO engages locally to agree who will be involved in the plan production process, and when and how this will happen. The Secretary of State must approve the Statement of Public Participation (SPP).

3 and 4. Initial preparation (identify issues and gather evidence)

The process of collecting and analysing scientific data begins in consultation with interested parties. A marine plan must be built on a strong evidence base, and a thorough understanding of the activities and resources in a plan area. MMO will publish a summary of issues and evidence for each plan area, this is the foundation on which a marine plan is developed.

When collecting evidence for a marine plan MMO focuses on the priorities identified in the Marine Policy Statement (MPS). These activities will be assessed against economic, social and environmental considerations. MMO prefers data in a geographic information system (GIS) format where possible. If you cannot provide your data in GIS format, it can still be considered, but it may take longer to incorporate into the marine evidence base.

We already hold a significant level of data and evidence on the English marine area, gathered from a number of existing sources to support marine planning. This information can be viewed on Explore Marine Plans which displays the appropriate marine policy documents for all of England’s marine plan areas in an accessible online, quick reference format. You can find and zoom in on particular areas or activities of interest - from wind farm developments to conservation areas.

You can submit data using the online evidence submission form and email it to

MMO will assess the data and respond within 20 working days. You can email evidence if the electronic file is 15 MB or less, or send it by post as a CD or DVD.

Additionally, lessons learned and evidence produced in previous marine plan areas is considered in future plan making.

5. Agree vision and objectives

The high level marine objectives and overall long-term vision are the starting point for the plan. The Marine Policy Statement sets high level marine objectives for the UK which reflect the principles of sustainable development. The objectives are:

  • achieving a sustainable marine economy
  • ensuring a strong, healthy and just society
  • living within environmental limits
  • promoting good governance
  • using sound science responsibly

These objectives will be delivered in all marine plan areas through a variety of means, but principally by developing marine plan policies to address the issues facing their achievement.

The vision for each marine plan area is developed after engaging with stakeholders with an interest in the area.

6. Develop options

MMO considers different ways of achieving the plan objectives and vision, to make sure that the choices made and their implications have been considered.

Some elements of this process, such as the sustainability appraisal are legally required as part of the planning process. A sustainability appraisal allows MMO to assess how a marine plan will affect environmental, social or economic sustainability. A Habitats Regulations assessment will form part of the appraisal process. The MMO considers it best practice to present draft options for issues in each marine plan area, summarising how the objectives and vision are proposed to be achieved, as part of the stakeholder engagement process.

Iterative process

The process of marine planning has been updated for the north west, north east, south east and south west marine plan development. An iterative process is the process of getting to the desired end result by means of repeating cycles of operation. This allows us to repeat processes which lead to the formation of draft policies and re-visit stages in the planning wheel as and when required.

7 and 8. Draft plan produced

Following the options stage, plan policies are developed. Applying the policies in the plan should help to achieve the vision and objectives. Policies inform decisions about applications, licenses and authorisations (things that require approval) and enforcement.

Policies are written to take into account existing legislation and obligations at national and international level. This includes those within the Marine Policy Statement and Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009. Local land-based plans are also considered.

MMO produces the draft marine plan and presents it to the Secretary of State, together with the draft sustainability appraisal, for approval to be published for consultation.

9. Consultation

The draft plan is presented for formal public consultation using several methods:

  • direct email to interested people
  • press release
  • local media
  • marine planning newsletter or marine developments blog
  • online through government, agency and third party websites
  • MMO offices
  • meetings and public drop-in sessions
  • consultation with bordering and international countries

At the end of the consultation, MMO analyses responses and produces a summary report. Those who submitted responses are notified of publication of the report.

10. Independent investigation (if required)

If substantial unresolved issues remain after the consultation process, the Secretary of State will consider whether an independent investigation is required. If so, the Secretary of State will appoint an independent person, likely to be the Planning Inspectorate, to investigate the unresolved issues. It would aim to complete its report within 6 months.

See a brief guide to independent investigations.

11. Final plan approved and adopted

The plan is reviewed and amended as necessary in response to comments and the investigation report (if applicable) is then presented to the Secretary of State for approval and adoption.

MMO will produce and publish, once approved:

  • adopted marine plan
  • implementation plan and monitoring plan
  • sustainability appraisal
  • modification report

12. Implement, monitor and review

MMO must review and monitor the effectiveness of the plans and related policies every 3 and 6 years. If a review shows that changes are required, steps will be taken to do so, with further public consultation.

MMO will produce and publish monitoring reports and plan reviews (if needed).

How to get involved with Marine Planning

For more information, see ‘How do I get involved in marine planning’.

Each marine plan area has a Statement of Public Participation (SPP) that sets out who will be involved and how and when this will happen. The SPP for each plan is approved by the Secretary of State at the start of the planning process.

An interactive tool – Explore Marine Plans - explains how marine plans apply to different marine sectors and geographic areas. It highlights policies that apply to a chosen area to inform plan users, and mapping information makes searching for your area of interest easier.

Contact information

Marine Planning Team

0208 0265 325

Published 11 June 2014
Last updated 22 June 2021 + show all updates
  1. Updated to reference Explore Marine Plans.

  2. Text updated

  3. First published.