“Maritime spatial planning brings together multiple users of the marine space to make informed and co-ordinated decisions about how to use marine resources in a sustainable way through the production of a comprehensive plan,” is how Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Simon Coveney defined what he believes to be the single most important government legislation for the past fifty years.

Maritime Spatila Planning copy

The minister was addressing this year’s SeaFest in Galway prior to announcing that he had signed regulations to transpose the EU Directive on Maritime Spatial Planning into Irish law – a move that heralded major implications for Irish marine law.

Harnessing our Ocean Wealth recognises that managing our ocean requires an over-arching MSP, underpinned by an efficient and robust planning and licensing framework,” he told SeaFest 2016.

“Such an approach will provide a governance structure and a blueprint for, regional and local planning of our ocean resources. I believe that implementing MSP will provide competitive advantage in our marine sectors and help realise the full benefit of our ocean wealth and assist with managing our resources effectively and sustainably. And ultimately that’s what this is about”.

Getting the sequencing right

Minister Coveney said that the various reports produced in the run up to this country having a functioning MSP had called for the same things:

• a lead department to be responsible at a national level for marine spatial policy and legislation

• the national maritime spatial plan to cover Ireland’s marine waters to a broad strategic level, with more detailed plans being prepared subsequently at a sub-national level as required

• the maritime spatial plans to aim for sustainable and efficient use of marine space by maximising multiple uses and potentially zoning for preferred uses

• to have meaningful and early participation in the process by all stakeholders – including the general public is essential

“And we know what happens when that doesn’t happen. We know that people get suspicious and think there are agendas that maybe aren’t there. And then we get a whole frustrated process around confusion, lack of understanding, and ultimately objection, and in many cases, the projects are prevented that would otherwise have gone ahead.”

Minister Coveney confirmed that the government had taken the first step last January to get this sequencing right when it approved the designation of the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government as having lead responsibility to implement the MSP.

“This move underpins the necessary legal and policy framework and involves the supporting role of the Marine Institute in terms of technical and scientific analysis” he said.

An EU Directive establishing the framework for the MSP was adopted in 2014. All coastal Member States were obliged to transpose the Directive by September 2016 and to establish marine spatial plans by 2021.

Transposition into Irish law

Minister Coveney confirmed he had signed the necessary regulations to transpose the Directive into national law, and the regulations to establish the necessary legal authority and broad framework.

“Transposition is being effected by regulations at this time to satisfy the Directive’s deadline. It is anticipated that further underpinning of MSP in primary legislation will be required at a later stage, and we will prioritise that in the next year or so.

“We have been trying to do that through zoning and planning on land. It’s extraordinary we haven’t done this with our ocean resources. For this reason, the Marine Co-ordination Group established the Enabler’s Task Force to examine the development of a marine spatial plan framework for Ireland”.

Minister Coveney added that work was also “progressing” on the preparation for a national planning framework that would essentially replace the National Spatial Strategy in Ireland.

“That, in my view, is arguably the most significant piece of work that this government will do,” he said.

“Essentially we will be drawing up the rules and priorities around what Ireland might look like in ten, twenty, thirty or forty years’ time. For the first time, we are going to integrate our marine resource in that planning to ensure we have maritime consideration as part of our national planning framework, in terms of developing cities, towns and industries, job creation, recreation and resource allocation.

“A very real opportunity now exists for the marine sector to be factored into mainstream thinking and planning and designing of what Ireland might look like in the future.”