Marine plan should avoid ‘privatising’ resources, department told

Over 170 submissions received on draft plan for managing coastal and offshore resource

The Atlantic Ocean. The State’s first marine management strategy aims to mirror land-based planning in prioritising activities including  fish farms, fisheries, offshore energy projects and marine tourism. Photograph: Chris Furlong/Getty Images

The Atlantic Ocean. The State’s first marine management strategy aims to mirror land-based planning in prioritising activities including fish farms, fisheries, offshore energy projects and marine tourism. Photograph: Chris Furlong/Getty Images

 

Ireland’s first-ever marine spatial plan should avoid becoming a lever for “privatising” coastal resources and should prioritise climate change, according to public submissions.

Some 44 per cent of responses to the Government’s public consultation have also said they prefer a “policy-based” plan, rather than zoning areas for specific marine-based activities.

The State’s first marine management strategy aims to mirror land-based planning in prioritising activities ranging from offshore energy projects to fish farms, fisheries and marine tourism.

It will extend from the mean high-water mark to 200 nautical miles out when implemented in 2021.

The Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government has been appointed lead agency. It sought public feedback before mid-December on a baseline report published in late summer that gave a “snapshot” of activity in one of Europe’s largest exclusive economic zones.

Ocean wealth

Two economic targets have already been identified in the State’s Harnessing Our Ocean Wealth strategy – doubling the value of our ocean wealth, and increasing the turnover of the ocean economy to exceed €6.4 billion by 2030.

Climate change – and how the national marine planning framework could contribute to Ireland’s measures to mitigate and adapt to climate breakdown – was raised by 42 per cent of respondents, the department says.

A preliminary analysis of some 173 responses found that 53 per cent focused on the marine environment, while 44 per cent focused on ports, harbours and shipping, and 41 per cent on nature conservation, it says.

Other issues raised included consents and licensing (34 per cent), renewable energy (34 per cent), aquaculture (31 per cent), fisheries (28 per cent), seaweed harvesting (23 per cent) and cultural heritage and assets (23 per cent).

Coastal community groups, energy providers, environmental non-governmental organisations, local authorities, political representatives and parties, and higher education bodies were among the “broad range” of stakeholders submitting views, it says.

One of the most important decisions involves opting for a “policy-based” or “zoning” approach, or a combination of both.

Policy-led plan

The department says that of the 57 respondents who expressed a preference, some 44 per cent opted for a policy-led plan, while 40 per cent elected for a hybrid model and 16 per cent indicated a preference for zoning.

An Taisce has said in its submission that the new plan should ensure the marine resource remains in public ownership, rather than a domain for private interests.

It says the plan could form the basis for this island – with 7,800km of coastline- to take a “international lead” in climate mitigation, and adopt the required action to reverse ocean acidification and biodiversity loss.

It says the plan should be legally binding, taking an integrated coastal-zone management approach to “harmonise” planning across all sectors and industries, and to “fully account for the cumulative pressures” on the marine resource.

‘One stop’ shop

Early last month, former Environmental Protection Agency director Dr Micheál Ó Cinnéide called on Ireland to follow Scotland’s example – known as Marine Scotland – and set up a “one stop”shop for all marine planning.

An Taisce also recommends establishing a statutory marine and coastal zone plan-making body.

Ireland’s marine area is 10 times its land mass, while Scotland’s is six times – or 62 per cent of Britain’s sea area.

The first draft of the marine planning framework will be published in mid-2019, with a further round of consultation before the final document.