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New System of "Strategic Marine Activity Zones" May Result from Draft Marine Plan

11th November 2019
The Marine Spatial Plan will try to balance the different demands for using the sea including the need to protect the marine environment The Marine Spatial Plan will try to balance the different demands for using the sea including the need to protect the marine environment

"Strategic marine activity zones" may be designated in coastal and offshore waters as part of the Government's new approach to marine planning.

Offshore wind projects will receive "preference" in marine areas zoned for this, a new draft framework published this morning by Minister of State for Housing Damien English states.

Renewable energy projects, commercial fishing, mineral extraction, aquaculture and other competing interests, including tourism, will be covered by a new single system of consent under long-promised revised legislation.

"Offshore wind projects will receive "preference" in marine areas zoned for this"

Ireland is actually one of the largest EU states if over 490,000 square kilometres of seabed off a 7,500 km coastline is taken into account, the draft framework notes.

As Afloat previously reported, Mr English has released the State’s first such framework in draft form today for a three month public consultation period.

Ireland and other EU coastal states are obliged to establish marine spatial plans by 2021 under an EU directive, and Mr English’s department has been assigned as lead in this.

The national marine planning framework aims to take a “co-ordinated” and “coherent” approach to management of “our most important resource”, it says/

The State’s “Harnessing our Ocean Wealth” strategy, has already set two economic targets – doubling the value of ocean wealth to 2.4 per cent of gross domestic product by 2030, and increasing the turnover of the ocean economy to exceed €6.4 billion by 2020.

Academics at NUI Galway’s Socio-Economic Marine Research Unit have reported that Ireland’s “ocean economy” had a turnover at €5.5 billion in 2017.

One single national marine plan will apply to Ireland’s entire maritime area, extending from mean high water mark on the coast to the 200 mile limits of the exclusive economic zone and Continental Shelf.

However, the draft framework says the Government is “committed” to preparation of regional or sub-national plans in future marine spatial policy cycles

The framework will be underpinned by the Government’s Marine Planning and Development Bill, which will replace the existing cumbersome system of foreshore leases and licenses, and will extend beyond territorial waters.

Friction between offshore renewable energy developments and fishing has already taken place in British waters, and the framework aims to plan for competing interests at a time of growing global pressure on marine resources.

Public consultation has already taken place on a baseline report, which elicited 173 responses, and a “strong consensus” emerged that a “hybrid approach” to marine spatial planning, involving zoning for specific activities or zoning certain areas was preferable to “full zoning” of all Ireland’s seas.

Adoption of the final marine planning framework is “expected” to be late 2020. Closing date for submissions on the draft is February 28th, 2020.

The department says it will “not replace or remove existing regulatory regimes or legislative requirements” governing marine sectoral activities, but public bodies will be obliged to take its objectives into account.

When the new legislation is passed, consents will be issued by two departments, depending on remit – the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, and Communications, Climate Action and Environment.

Former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) director Micheál Ó Cinnéide, who is now co-chair of environmental organisation Corrib Beo, welcomed publication of the draft framework.

However, he has questioned why the State’s Marine Institute or a similar experienced body is not being established to provide a secretariat for the plan.

Mr Ó Cinnéide also warned that the plan needs to be given adequate resources, and the department needs to ensure widespread consultation at both regional and local level before final agreement.

“This plan will stand or fall on how well it works in individual coastal bays,” he said.

Regional public events on the draft marine planning framework will open on November 21st in Limerick, continuing to Westport, Co Mayo (Nov 26), Galway (December 2nd), and Tralee, Co Kerry (December 12th), with further events in Killybegs, Co Donegal, Bantry, Co Cork, Dungarvan, Co Waterford, Dublin and Wexford.

Full details are on www.marineplan.gov.ie

Published in Environment
Lorna Siggins

About The Author

Lorna Siggins

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Lorna Siggins is a print and radio reporter, and a former Irish Times western correspondent. She is the author of Everest Callling (1994) on the first Irish Everest expedition; Mayday! Mayday! (2004) on Irish helicopter search and rescue; and Once Upon a Time in the West: the Corrib gas controversy (2010).

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