Marine Plans: independent investigations

An Independent Investigation of a marine plan will take place if there are unresolved issues.


Marine Plans are important as they will be a key consideration in making decisions about where development and other activities in the marine area will take place. Marine Plans will guide developers; they will provide an indication of where they are likely to be able to carry out activities, or where conditions or restrictions may occur. Marine Plans will encourage an understanding of the marine environment and associated activities.

An Independent Investigation of a marine plan will only take place if there are unresolved issues. An Independent Investigation will address the unresolved issues only, not the entire plan. If an Independent Investigation is necessary the aim would be to complete the process within 6 months.

The Marine Management Organisation (MMO) develops Marine Plans on behalf of the Secretary of State (SoS) for the Department for the Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). Marine Plans in England will set out how the Government’s Marine Policy Statement will be implemented in a specific area; the plans must be approved by the Secretary of State before consultation and at formal adoption.

Preparation of the plan

The MMO is required to produce a Statement of Public Participation for each Marine Plan. The statement sets out the timetable for plan preparation and explains how and when people can become involved in the preparation of the marine plan for that plan area. The process includes opportunities to inform the evidence base, emerging issues and to comment on the draft plan. Read detailed information on the process for preparing a marine plan.

Independent Investigation

After the public consultation on the draft plan has closed the MMO will consider the need for an Independent Investigation, they will then make a recommendation to the Secretary of State for DEFRA. The MMO’s consideration will include the extent to which matters raised through representations (i.e. responses) have not been resolved. Through engagement of stakeholders, it is expected that most, if not all, issues will be dealt with throughout the plan preparation process; the process could be aided through mediation techniques and facilitation between stakeholders.

The SoS will consider the recommendations made by the MMO and decide if an Independent Investigation will take place. If the SoS decides an Independent Investigation is necessary the Planning Inspectorate will be instructed to carry it out through the appointment of an Independent Investigator.

The Independent Investigator, in this case a Planning Inspector from the Planning Inspectorate, will seek to provide resolution via recommendations on issues not resolved during plan preparation. The Inspector as the appointed Independent Investigator will do this by assessing available evidence and if necessary requesting additional information. The Independent Investigation will follow well established principles of openness, fairness and impartiality.

Timetable for the Investigation

The length of an Independent Investigation will depend on the number and complexity of issues the Investigator will address. Based on the recommendations from the MMO the SoS will decide the scope. The Investigator may notify the SoS if they consider there to be additional substantial unresolved issues. The aim is that the process from the appointment of the Investigator to the provision of recommendations should take no more than 6 months. Once appointed the Investigator will make public the issue/s to be addressed and an indicative timetable. Information relevant to the Independent Investigation will be provided on the MMO website.

Investigation process

The Investigation will be carried out by way of Written Representations (i.e. exchange of written correspondence) or/and through a Hearing session process. In deciding the most appropriate and proportionate method the Investigator will be guided by the extent and complexity of the issues and representations made.

The Investigator may decide that the issues can be resolved solely through written correspondence. In this circumstance the Investigator will effectively conduct a desk based Investigation and will write to participants requesting additional written statements, where they are necessary for further clarification.

Where the Hearing session method is used the emphasis will be on informal round table discussion, with the investigator probing and leading a debate on the issues identified. The sessions will be preceded by a pre hearing meeting, held around 6 weeks in advance. This pre meeting would be used to explain the process for the Investigation; set out the hearing session agenda and offer an opportunity for procedural questions to be put to the Investigator and for him or her to put questions to others. Participants may be asked at this meeting to provide further written statements, i.e. more information on the issues, in advance of the scheduled hearing sessions. Both the Pre hearing meeting and hearing sessions would be held in public.

The Independent Investigator’s agenda will create a strong focus for the hearing session(s) discussion, by identifying a clear sequence of issues and questions.

Where requested by the Independent Investigator, participants under both hearing and written representations procedures will have adequate opportunity to produce their further statements, typically around 4 weeks. All statements would be made publicly available.

How to get involved in the Investigation

The Independent Investigator will decide who is directly involved in an Independent Investigation. There is no right to be heard at an Independent Investigation though everyone has the right to comment on the draft marine plan. If you do participate in one, the Investigator will decide how you will participate. This may be by providing additional material in writing or attending a hearing session(s).

It is very important that you provide the MMO with all the information you wish them to consider during the consultation on the draft plan as this may be your last opportunity to provide comment and information as an Independent Investigation may not be necessary. All comments and other evidence received throughout plan preparation, including during consultation could be considered by the Investigator during an Independent Investigation.

Representations received by the MMO cannot be treated as confidential. This is because the Marine Planning process is a public process which needs to be transparent.

Everyone who attends an Independent Investigation is responsible for their own costs.

After the Investigation

In assessing unresolved issues the Investigator will apply their professional judgement based on the available evidence. If necessary the Investigator may also be supported by an expert to provide assistance on a specialist matter. The Investigator will make recommendations to the SoS and these will be published. The recommendations are not binding. The SoS will decide if changes to the draft plan are necessary and the plan text will be finalised and published for adoption. A modifications report would be published alongside the final plan; this would include any modifications and reasons made to the draft plan, and any recommendations, with reasons, made by the Investigator which have not been taken on board.

After the plan is adopted

Any person can challenge an adopted marine plan if they do not think it meets the conditions of the relevant legislation i.e. the correct process has not been followed. Applications must be made to the High Court within 6 weeks of the Plan being adopted. Anyone wishing to challenge a marine plan should seek their own independent legal advice.


The Planning Inspectorate Plans Team
3J Kite Wing
Temple Quay House
2 The Square

Tel: 0303 444 5326 email:

Published 1 January 2014