Marine Licensing: The Opportunities and Risks

18th September 2009 in Marine Planning and Licensing

As the Marine Bill concludes its final stages in parliament before passing into law, the NFFO is now entering into detailed discussions to define the secondary legislation following on from the Bill.

This has started with a new marine licensing process for marine works and developments.

The existing licensing regime has often failed to address fisheries sensitivities. Ad-hoc decisions on location have neglected the location of fisheries to the detriment of both the fishing industry and developers alike, and lack of an effective early engagement have left many in the fishing industry feeling like consultation serves only as a tick-box exercise for developers to gain planning consent.

The new licensing regime the Federation would like to see offers the possibility to address these inadequacies in two key areas:

  • Marine licensing should become embedded within a broadened and more strategic planning system, flowing down from the marine policy statement and marine plans under the auspices of the Marine Management Organisation (MMO), with the opportunity for better engagement and the integration of fisheries sensitivities

  • The process could include a fit-for-purpose pre-application phase that enables constructive dialogue to address issues over location and the design of marine developments that maximise the opportunities for coexistence with the fishing industry.

Assistant Chief Executive, Dale Rodmell, warned however that "there remain significant risks to success. Marine Protected Areas and large infrastructure projects will remain outside of the auspices of the marine planning system under the MMO, and the 25 gigawatt Round 3 offshore wind farm planning programme is already racing ahead outside of a government led spatial planning process, which threatens to put both industries at loggerheads with one another at key locations. The MMO will also have to demonstrate its competencies in this untrialled field.”

“Critically, the planning process must be capable of accounting for sensitive fishing areas at an early stage and eliminating them from consideration for development. This will require agreeing thresholds to determine what constitutes degrees of sensitivity so that planning decisions do not just pay lip service to colourful charts of fishing activity.”

Concerns also remain over what marine activities will be captured under the new regime.

"There should be no attempt to try to shoehorn any type of fishing into the ill fitting shoes of a marine licensing regime. We are not short of a fisheries regulatory system and fishing does not fit into the site based nature of marine licensing. It must remain exempt as it is under the existing arrangements" he said.

It is expected that the MMO will formally come into being at its Newcastle location in April 2010, with the new licensing regime being phased in from early 2011.