Opinion: What is Marine Spatial Planning


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The United Kingdom marine area is far greater than that of its landmass.1 The coastal areas and seas have provided convenient food, transport and waste disposal for centuries, as well as contributing to man's identity and sense of well-being. In recent years, biodiversity and the potential of biotechnologies from the oceans have increasingly been identified as important. A detailed and intricate web of legal and policy instruments relating to the marine environment has, therefore, developed to control and regulate the use of the sea. Until recently, this has not been considered in a holistic way. The passing of the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 was a landmark in the development of sustainable marine management for UK waters. In particular, it introduced a requirement for marine planning.2

'Spatial planning of the sea was initially perceived in the EU as an environmental policy. However, it is now regarded as a sector neutral approach with the objective not only to protect the marine environment but also to promote economic growth of the maritime economy.'3 Marine spatial planning (MSP) has, therefore, been increasingly identified as a solution to resolving tensions on the coasts and in the seas; to enable development whilst providing improved protection of the marine environment.4 In the United Kingdom, the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 introduced, inter alia, provision for a marine planning framework and the designation of a network of marine protected areas.5 The term 'marine spatial planning', however, was not utilised in the legislation, as the overarching planning policy, a Marine Policy Statement (MPS), is in the form of high-level objectives which contribute to the achievement of sustainable development in the UK marine area,7 but do not take a spatial form. The first MPS was produced in March 2011 and has been jointly adopted by the Secretary of State, Scottish Ministers, Welsh Ministers and the Department of the Environment, Northern Ireland, as marine planning is a devolved function. Marine spatial planning is therefore being undertaken in different ways and, indeed, at different speeds in England and the devolved nations. This Opinion considers the legal and policy development of the concept of marine planning, as well as how it compares and relates to the traditional town and country planning regime. In addressing this, the critical importance of cooperation between these new emerging marine planning regimes is highlighted. The need for careful and informed coordination between the terrestrial and marine systems of planning is noted, although it is not clear at present that such joined up systems exist. In fact, what appears to have emerged is an increasing series of separate planning regimes, albeit connected by a unifying policy. These are early days for the marine planning system, as well as being a time of change in the terrestrial planning regimes in all areas of the United Kingdom.

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