Marine planning – all at sea?

by Dorothy Laing


While the Wildlife Trusts celebrated National Marine Week and British holidaymakers head for the coast to enjoy a traditional seaside holiday, they will almost certainly not be aware that the first of 11 marine plans for England has recently been adopted, even though these new plans are likely to have an impact on coastal areas.

Planning in the marine environment is a contentious issue with the increase in activities around the coastline and competing demands for resources. Offshore wind farms, ports and marina developments, coastal flooding and erosion, tidal energy, and aggregate extraction, as well as pressures from tourism and leisure, and the need to protect the environment and ensure sustainable development, all contribute to the growing pressure.

UK marine planning systems have been introduced through primary legislation set out in the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 and the framework outlined in the UK Marine Policy Statement (MPS), published in 2011. In addition, a Maritime Spatial Planning Directive was approved by the European Parliament in April 2014. Once finally adopted all Member States must transpose it into national legislation by 2016 and produce national maritime plans by 2021.

The UK MPS calls for marine plans to be drawn up which will ‘provide for greater coherence in policy and a forward-looking, proactive and spatial planning approach to the management of the marine area, its resources, and the activities and interactions that take place within it.’

For local authorities marine plans will be of significance because of the interaction between the marine and land-based planning regime, and the plans may have influence on decisions on and around the waterfront. Guidance explaining what local council planners need to know about marine planning was published in June by the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) – Marine planning: A guide for local authority planners. In particular, local councils will need to consult the MMO when preparing local plans, and when determining applications, if they are considered relevant to the marine environment.

According to the government website a marine plan will:

  • encourage local communities to be involved in planning
  • make the most of growth and job opportunities
  • consider the environment from the start
  • enable sustainable development in the marine area
  • integrate with planning on land
  • save time and money for investors and developers by giving clear guidance on things to consider or avoid
  • encourage shared use of busy areas to benefit as many industries as possible
  • encourage developments that consider wildlife and the natural environment.

A marine plan:

  • sets out priorities and directions for future development within the plan area
  • informs sustainable use of marine resources
  • helps marine users understand the best locations for their activities, including where new developments may be appropriate.

Covering an offshore and inshore area of 55,000 square km on the east coast of England from Flamborough Head in Yorkshire to Felixtowe in Suffolk, an area which takes in the Humber Estuary, the Wash and the Norfolk coast, and extends out to the seaward limit of the territorial sea (approximately 12 nautical miles), the first two marine plans – East Inshore and East Offshore Marine Plans (published by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs as a single document) – have been prepared under the framework set out in the MPS.

In practice the MPS sets out the high-level objectives and policies for protecting the marine environment, supporting development of the marine economy and supporting coastal communities, which are then interpreted and applied at the local level through marine plans. Policies outlined in the east of England plan cover economic issues, social and cultural issues, climate change, defence, tourism and recreation, oil and gas, offshore wind renewable energy infrastructure, fisheries, aquaculture, aggregates and ports. In total there are 11 marine plan areas in England and one national marine plan in Scotland (draft currently under investigation), with a number of localised plans for ‘marine regions’.

As the third and fourth areas in England to be selected for marine planning (the South Inshore Marine Plan Area including the coastline that stretches from Folkestone to the River Dart) have just been announced, it will be interesting to see how the marine plans work in practice, and indeed whether they do have an impact on planning and design in coastal towns.


The Idox Information Service has a wide selection of research reports and articles on marine planning. Items relating to this blog include:

Compilation of information on tourism relevant to marine planning in the South Inshore and Offshore marine plan areas, Marine Management Organisation, 2013

How will marine plans integrate with land-use plans?, Marine Management Organisation, 2014

Managing competition for marine space using the tools of planning in the UK, IN Planning Practice and Research, Vol 28 No 5 Oct 2013

Marine planning, IN Urban Design, No 131 Summer 2014, pp20-21

Marine planning (POSTnote no 388), Houses of Parliament, Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, 2011

Marine strategy Part one: UK Initial Assessment and Good Environmental Status , Defra, 2012

Marine strategy Part two: UK marine monitoring programmes, Defra, 2014

Marine strategy, IN Briefing for Planners and Surveyors, No 51 19 Dec 2012

N.B. Abstracts and full text access to subscription journal articles are only available to members of the Idox Information Service. For more information on the service, click here.

What do you think?

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.