‘Towards a Marine Spatial Plan for Ireland’ – a roadmap for the development of Ireland’s first marine spatial plan

Marine Spatial Planning is the process for planning where and when human activities take place at sea. This is needed due to increased competition for space – from shipping, renewable energy, fishing, leisure and other activities. These activities need to be coordinated in the best possible way to reduce conflict and help meet environmental, economic and social objectives.

As an island nation, with sovereign rights over one of the largest marine areas in Europe, Ireland’s economy, culture and society is inextricably linked to the sea. Ireland’s marine environment is a national asset that yields multiple commercial and non-commercial benefits in terms, for example of seafood, tourism, recreation, renewable energy, oil and gas, cultural heritage, and biodiversity.

The Irish Government recently published 'Towards a Marine Spatial Plan for Ireland'. The document comprises a 'roadmap' for the development of Ireland’s first marine spatial plan which ultimately aims to balance the different demands for using the sea, including the need to protect the marine environment. Driven by the EU Directive 2014/89/EU, the Marine Spatial Plan (MSP) will ultimately give local or national authorities new powers beyond the current system of foreshore licensing requirements, effectively introducing a planning system for our seas. Ireland has transposed the Directive through the European Union (Framework for Maritime Spatial Planning) Regulations 2016, signed into law on 29th June 2016. The regulations establish the legal basis and broad framework for Ireland to implement MSP through the development of a maritime spatial plan (or plans) on a 10-year cycle.

The MSP will sit at the top of the hierarchy of plans and sectoral policies for the marine area. Maritime spatial plans will not replace or remove existing regulatory regimes or legislative requirements governing the operation of various marine sectoral activities. Rather they will provide an overarching framework for their continued operation. Public bodies involved in consenting for marine development and activities will be obliged to take into account the objectives of plans as part of their decision-making processes. The forthcoming MSP will contribute to the effective management of marine activities and more sustainable use of our marine resources. It will enable the Government to set a clear direction for managing our seas, to clarify objectives and priorities, and to direct decision makers, users and stakeholders towards more strategic and efficient use of marine resources. It will inform decisions about the current and future development of the marine area, aiming to integrate social, economic and environmental needs.

The MSP for Ireland will be developed over the next 3 years. The publication of the 'roadmap' document marks the first stage in the development of Ireland’s marine spatial plan. The purpose of the ‘roadmap’ is to:

  • inform all interested parties that a new MSP for Ireland is being developed;
  • set out the scope and broad content of the MSP;
  • assist in identifying key stakeholders who need to be kept informed of progress in the development of the MSP; and
  • describe how stakeholders’ views will be considered in the development of the MSP.

The ‘roadmap’ sets out the proposed four stages of plan making, highlighting a number of key opportunities for stakeholder input into the planning process. It is intended that the MSP will be finalised in 2020, and forwarded to the European Commission at that time, ahead of the due date for submission by Member States of their plans in March 2021.

Anybody who wants to become involved in the MSP process may make contact in writing by email at msp@housing.gov.ie or by post to Marine Spatial Planning Section, Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, Newtown Road, Wexford, Y35 AP90.

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