New Project: Assessing the Alignment of Marine Spatial Plans with EU Environmental Legislation

Following a successful tender application, I have been commissioned by BirdLife International to conduct an evaluation of national level Marine Spatial Plans (MSPs). Over the next few months, I will develop a methodology for the assessment of MSPs based on a screening of relevant EU environmental directives. This methodology will initially be applied to four countries located within the Baltic and North Sea Regions: Belgium, Germany, Lithuania and Sweden and subsequently made available to practitioners and stakeholders for the evaluation of MSPs across Europe.

BirdLife

More than Lines on a Map? Towards Regional Governance for Irish Marine Space

Last month, I spoke at the Conference of Irish Geographers about the current developments and future challenges in marine protected area (MPA) management and maritime spatial planning (MSP) in the Irish context. In this commentary, I further develop some of the key arguments and proposals from that presentation.

As an island nation, Ireland is surrounded by the sea and has an extensive maritime territory (Figure 1 below). Nevertheless, the sea has often occupied a peripheral position in the national consciousness and politics. There is a prevailing sense that successive Irish governments have ‘turned their backs on the sea’, neglecting this rich resource (e.g. Tom MacSweeney 2008, Kevin O’ Sullivan 2019). Currently, however, Ireland’s marine territory is subject to significant policy attention, indicating perhaps, the beginning of a new relationship between the land and the sea. Irish marine governance is evolving rapidly with the adoption of a National Marine Planning Framework (NMPF), the preparation of a Marine Planning and Development Management Bill, and ambitious targets for the large-scale expansion of Ireland’s MPA network, in line with international commitments. Yet, blind spots and a sense of disjointed policy-making continues with, for example, the lack of marine biodiversity characterization or sensitivity mapping to support the preparation of NMPF. Indeed, by all accounts (the final NMPF will not be made public until June 17th), the NMPF does not provide a map of spatial strategy or an indication of priority areas for specific uses and activities at sea. In this sense, it is very much a policy framework rather than a spatial plan and barely meets the requirements set out under EU MSP Directive. This apparent lack of willingness to provide strategic policy direction in relation to the spatial distribution of activities and priority areas for ecosystem protection at sea is disappointing. As pressures for the development of marine space increase, there is a real risk of a reactive, development-led regime emerging by default. 

Figure 1: Ireland’s maritime territory (continental shelf). Source: Marine Institute.

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Marine Protected Areas for Irish Waters

Following the publication of the comprehensive report of an Advisory Group on the Expansion of Ireland’s Marine Protected Area Network (MPA) in January, the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage has opened a public consultation on the planning of MPAs. The consultation takes the form of an online survey with a series of questions, many of ask for detailed, open responses and assume knowledge of the content of the individual chapters of the Advisory Report. I completed my submission this morning. In what follows, I summarise my key recommendations and outline what I view as priorities re. MPA planning and management.

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Best Practices in Maritime Spatial Planning policy report launched

Over the past few months I have worked on the study: ” Best Practice in Maritime Spatial Planning: Towards Mutually Beneficial Outcomes for Fishers, Renewable Energy Production and Marine Conservation” commissioned by Grace O’ Sullivan MEP on behalf of the Greens in the European Parliament. 
The study has been published today (5.2.2021) and is available to download here. See also an opinion piece by Grace O’ Sullivan MEP on the launch of the study. A webinar will take place later this month (24. Feb) where the report will be discussed with industry and NGO representatives (details tbc). 

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New Commissioned Study: MSP Best Practice Cases

Now that the contract is signed, I can announce that I am working on a desk-based study of Maritime Spatial Planning focussing on case studies of best / good practice where conflicts between offshore wind, fisheries and nature conservation interests have been resolved or ameliorated through MSP and related practices. This is a tall order of course, but I am confident existing good practices can point the way towards more inclusive and integrated forms of MSP where conflicts are resolved, mitigated and/or ameliorated through open dialogue, strategic planning and regulations sensitive to the particularities of individual places and their communities.

The study is commissioned by the The Greens / EFA in the European Parliament via the offices of Grace O’ Sullivan, MEP for Ireland South. It has already benefitted from expert input from MSPRN and MarSocSci colleagues across NW Europe.

Whitelee Windfarm, UK (c) Jim McDougall, creative commons license