Integration of licensing and planning
Marine planning and licensing should not be considered as separate entities. The marine planning system will set the regulatory framework within which individual licence decisions will be made on a case-by-case basis, similar to the process in the terrestrial planning system with local development frameworks and planning permission.
Our planning and licensing teams work closely together to achieve a consistent understanding of the planning and regulatory issues throughout the cycle of plan development, implementation and review. It should be noted that the completion date for having all marine plans in place for the English marine area is 2020. This means that there will be a period of time when licensing decisions will have to be made before the adoption of a marine plan.
Licensing decisions before the adoption of marine plans
During the plan making process, before the issue of a plan, licensing decisions will use the best available evidence to make licensing decisions. The absence of a current plan does not hinder or stall the licence decision process. This is critical given the fact that plan making is likely to continue for a number of years.
Though every decision must be taken on a case-by-case basis there are a number of principles that apply to decision making. Decisions should, of course, be consistent with statutory requirements and international law. The Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 specifically requires that we not issue marine licences contrary to international law.
In the absence of a marine plan, the decision-making process will still need to take account of the alignment of a proposed activity with current EU and UK marine policy, specifically the Marine Policy Statement (MPS). We would expect to have greater engagement with the applicant during the strategic assessment and options appraisal stage of any proposed activity, particularly on high risk or large scale projects. This will enable us to help the applicant ensure that they are choosing the most sustainable option from the outset, and avoid potential conflict during the more detailed stages of the proposal.
We will consider alternative site selection, design or development and operational processes if these could mitigate effects. We will take a risk-based approach that allows for uncertainty, recognising the need to use sound science responsibly as set out in the high level objectives for the marine area.
In determining a marine licence and any conditions attached to it, we will consider:
- any representations made during any consultation process
- the need to protect the environment
- the need to protect human health
- the need to prevent interference with legitimate uses of the sea
- any other relevant matters.
Local authorities in which activities are proposed to take place will be notified of relevant marine licence applications as required under Section 69(1) of the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009.
Licensing decisions following the adoption of marine plans
The marine planning system will provide the framework for our consideration of a licence application and the decision to grant or refuse a licence as it will give clear direction regarding the nature of activities that may be permitted in a given location.
The marine plan for each area will have been developed using the best available evidence, expert technical advice and extensive stakeholder consultation in applying the MPS. Once developed each plan is then subject to a sustainability appraisal to ensure that the objectives within it are the most sustainable options. By taking decisions within the framework of the planning system, decision makers will be able to contribute to the delivery of the aims and objectives of the MPS and the achievement of sustainable development.
Therefore, once marine plans are adopted, licensing decisions should be:
- in accordance with the adopted marine plan unless relevant considerations indicate otherwise
- conducted in a manner that takes account of other relevant projects, programmes, plans and national policies and guidance
- aken after liaison with relevant terrestrial planning authorities.
Just as occurs in the terrestrial planning system, potential applicants should refer to marine plans and/or the MPS when considering whether to make an application for a marine licence. The licensing process provides information which can be drawn on, following determination of applications, to inform the evidence base for future rounds of planning. This includes:
- information collated by the applicant in support of their application
- information provided by consultees and stakeholders in respect of that application
- conditions attached to licenses that are granted and the reasons behind these
- for applications that are refused, reasons for refusal
- information on when relevant considerations are used as reasons for not taking licensing decisions in accordance with the MPS or marine plan
- monitoring and implementation information that we or others gather in respect of the licence.
Even with plans in place the MMO will take every licensing decision on a case-by-case basis. However, the marine planning system will give direction on the nature of activities that may be permitted in a given location. This will provide greater certainty for licence applicants who will be able to refer to marine plans when considering whether to apply for a marine licence.