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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EU Territorial Agenda 2030 – Place-based development for a Just and Green Europe

The Territorial Agenda 2030: A Future for all places (TAEU 2030) was adapted this week on 1st December 2020 at an informal meeting of the minsters responsible for Spatial Planning and Territorial Development and /or Territorial Cohesion, under the auspices of the German Presidency of the European Council. This document constitutes a high level commitment to principles of place-based sustainable development and territorial cohesion. It is the third iteration of the Territorial Agenda of the European Union, the first version of which was adopted in 2007 and the second (TAEU 2020) adopted in 2011. Indeed, in many respects, its genesis may be traced, back to the European Spatial Development Perspective (ESDP 1999), as discussed in a previous commentary here. It may also be viewed as complementary to the New Leipzig Charter on sustainable urban development, the most recent version of which was adopted on 30th November 2020.

Regional differences in economic development since the 2008/2009 financial crisis (source: Atlas for the Territorial Agenda of the EU 2030.
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Workshop Report: Spatial Strategies at the Land-Sea Interface, Hamburg, September 2019

Spatial Strategies at the Land-Sea Interface: Rethinking Maritime Spatial Planning – Hamburg September 2019: A Workshop Report

A three-day workshop on spatial planning at the land-sea interface took place at Hamburg University, Institute for Geography from 11-13th September. The workshop took place under the umbrella of the Marine Spatial Planning Research Network and the Association of European Schools of Planning (AESOP) Thematic Group on Transboundary Spaces, Planning Cultures and Policy Diffusion. It explicitly sought to the bring together these two academic communities engaged with spatial planning at sea and on land respectively. In this spirit, Prof. Simin Davoudi (Newcastle University, UK) provided the opening keynote, introducing the concept of spatial imaginaries as way of coming to grips with taken-for-granted geographies of the coast. This conceptual introduction was followed by three papers providing reflections on current practices in MSP research and policy in Poland, Denmark and the UK.

 

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