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Marine planning needs to be more ambitious in 2016

In November 2015, the Government laid before Parliament a report that you may have missed. No fanfare, no announcements, not a sniff of media coverage. The report sets out progress in delivering marine planning in English waters, six years since the Marine and Coastal Access Act came into force. Given that the marine environment has had no system of strategic planning at all, this is kind of a big deal (for some of us!).

January 2016

This report said little more than that some marine plans had been completed, some others were in preparation, and something will be done about the rest. To read it, you’d get no insight into the quality of those plans, or the process that created them. So as someone who has been through this process since the beginning, it’s perhaps a good time to reflect on where marine planning – alternatively known as Marine or Maritime Spatial Planning (MSP) - has got to in England.

We at WWF and Wildlife & Countryside Link have always been clear: marine planning has to be spatial, inclusive, ambitious and ecosystem based. It also needs to support the network of Marine Protected Areas we have long called for and that hundreds of MPs and Peers support. As a process it has to involve sea users and NGOs from the start, at the lowest practical level, and deliver enough to keep them interested to actually use the plan(s) in the long term.

In England, the first plans (for the Southern North Sea) were adopted in April 2014. By their own admission, the Marine Management Organisation who created them would say they weren’t great. They didn’t meet all of the criteria set out above, they only really described what was going on at the moment and didn’t offer much in the way of changing that baseline scenario. Much of this was due to other government departments putting a blocker on the more ambitious plan policies. The MMO did, however, set up a thorough and open stakeholder process, and there’s also an excellent online portal for the plans, which I’d encourage anybody interested to have a look at.

Work is now ongoing to produce marine plans for the English Channel. These should be out for public comment in a couple of months, all being well. The signs are that these plans will be an improvement, although we have not seen the latest version. They won’t be all we want though.

As WWF and Link, we will continue to engage proactively and constructively with the process, for as long as we see signs of continuing progress. It’s about a 5 out of 10 so far, but heading in the right direction.

Alec Taylor
Member of Link’s Marine Working Group
Marine Governance Programme Manager, WWF-UK

Find me on Twitter at @1TakeTaylor

The opinions expressed in this blog are the author’s and not necessarily those of the wider Link membership