Thursday, 29 April 2021
National Marine Planning Framework: Motion
I thank all Members for their contributions to the debate. I wish to strongly respond to what has been said and point to the consultation that has taken place on the Bill. The Government has prioritised this area. We can see that by the action it took in setting up the stakeholder advisory group composed of almost 50 different actors from various sectors, including fisheries. There was robust engagement with them. The engagement was carried out on a regional basis over several years.
I cannot be held to account for a process that went on for three years but that was not prioritised by the Oireachtas joint committee in its work. My job is to try to ensure that we get the best possible plan together, one that has gone through the most robust scrutiny through the Department and its engagement with the various actors. I am confident that has been done. People attended more than 150 conferences. The facts speak for themselves.
It is important that we get a joined-up plan. Many speakers articulated the gaps that exist in the foreshore area. The framework does everything to join all the dots and come up with a plan that we can be proud of. It speaks volumes that both An Taisce and IBEC say this is an exciting plan, in a good way.
The NMPF is a national document that sets out the State's approach to managing Ireland's marine activities and ensuring sustainable use of marine resources to 2040. The framework, bringing together all marine-based human activities, articulates the Government's vision, objectives and planning policies for each activity. It outlines how they will interact with each other in an ocean space that is under increasing spatial pressure.
As I indicated, the Government has consulted broadly in preparing this framework, including running two public consultations, and is moving to establish it now, in line with the requirements of the EU maritime spatial directive. The finalised NMPF will be the key decision-making tool for Departments, State agencies and regulatory authorities in making decisions on marine activities. Decisions will include planning applications as well as policies, projects and strategies.
The framework will be a parallel document to the national planning framework, which provides a high-level guide to terrestrial planning and development over the next 20 years. The NMPF applies to the work of public bodies, including functions related to the formulation of any policy, programme or plan in relation to development or activity, or proposed development or activity, in the maritime area; the giving of any consent or approval, or the grant or issue of licences, certificates or other like documents, under any enactment for the purposes of any such development or activity, or any such proposed development or activity; and the regulation of any such development or activity.
I will outline the benefits of the NMPF. It will contribute significantly to the effective management of marine resources. Long-term forward planning for Ireland's maritime area will enhance the effective management of marine activities and more sustainable use of our marine resources. The NMPF will provide a clear direction for managing our seas, clarifying objectives and establishing priorities. It will direct decision makers, marine users and stakeholders towards more strategic and efficient use of marine resources. It will inform decisions about the current and future development of the maritime area, aiming to integrate needs.
The NMPF will ensure co-ordinated planning decisions, consistent with the Government's vision and objectives. Marine users, including regulators, applicants for consent and interested persons, should find that the reformed marine planning system will reduce the regulatory burden on them by giving them more certainty regarding what can happen and where, thereby speeding up the licensing process.
The NMPF will support Ireland in taking climate action and meeting the Government's ambitious renewable energy targets. Specifically, the NMPF contains a number of overarching marine planning policies aimed at requiring marine regulators and decision makers to take account of climate action when considering any proposal for marine use or activity, including, for example, ports development, aquaculture, shipping, etc.
The NMPF reiterates the Government's climate action plan's commitment to a major shift away from oil combustion within the heat and transport sectors towards renewable energy in the coming decade. The NMPF has been prepared with an ecosystem-based approach, comprehensively outlining an integrated management of human activities in the maritime space, based on the best available scientific knowledge. This approach will achieve the sustainable use of ecosystem goods and services and the maintenance of ecosystem integrity.
I will now turn to the environmental assessments of the NMPF. As part of the preparation of the NMPF, a strategic environmental assessment, SEA, and an appropriate assessment, AA, have been carried out.
These assessments have been undertaken to evaluate the high-level impacts of the NMPF on the environment and to inform the direction of the NMPF. This is to ensure that the national objectives and outcomes respond to the sensitivities and requirements of the wider natural environment, the likely environmental consequences of decisions regarding the future accommodation of development and how negative effects can be reduced, offset or avoided. The NMPF is in full compliance with relevant legal environmental requirements.
As I previously mentioned, the MSP advisory group was established to facilitate participation in the marine spatial planning process by all relevant stakeholders from the economic, environmental and social pillars. The intended purpose of the advisory group was to harness the potential and capacity of a broad range of sectors, including representation from the public sector, business, environmental, social and knowledge based sectors to guide strategic thinking and decision-making in the preparation of marine spatial plans. I am pleased to say that the work of the advisory group throughout this process was of an exceptional standard, having provided expert reports, recommendations or updates when required, thus informing the work of the interdepartmental group and strongly influencing the final NMPF.
The NMPF contains a commitment to regional or sub-national plans in future planning cycles. These will be more localised and will potentially be more empowering for coastal communities throughout Ireland. At least three regional plans will be developed, specifically based on the locations of Ireland’s regional assemblies, which have an existing range of powers in regard to spatial planning and economic development.
All public bodies that have a role in making policies, plans or programmes relevant to the maritime area, or have a role in regulating activity or development in the maritime area, are statutorily obliged to support and implement the objectives and policies of the NMPF when it is adopted. This means, in practice, that in assessing and deciding on an application for a lease, license or consent, a public body must ensure consistency with the NMPF’s objectives. It also means that where a public body is introducing a new policy proposal or plan, such as, for example, a sectoral marine action plan, that policy document must also contribute to the achievement of the NMPF’s objectives and policies.
Chapter 2 of the framework sets out how the NMPF will interact with terrestrial forward plans at national, regional and county level. The chapters on overarching marine planning policies and sectoral marine planning policies contain extensive referencing and signposting on how the NMPF can be implemented, who will implement it and how it interacts with other strategic plans, policies and development management processes.
I will now outline some of the further implementation initiatives of the NMPF that will be rolled out over the coming months. The programme for Government committed to the establishment of Project Ireland Marine 2040 and this marine governance group, working under the broader Project Ireland delivery board, will provide leadership and oversight during the implementation of the NMPF. A central and successful underpinning of Project Ireland 2040 and the national development plan, NDP, has been the alignment of spatial and investment plans and we intend to align the NMPF with the NDP. Together, the NPF and NMPF will form the statutorily based spatial planning framework. The NDP is the key investment plan, covering all sectors, irrespective of whether the investment is on land or sea.
As part of the roll out of the NMPF, my Department proposes to examine options for maximising stakeholder engagement and buy-in to the concept of marine planning at a local level through coastal partnership arrangements. This will serve as an important part of the implementation and monitoring arrangements for the first cycle of marine planning from 2021 onwards and a learning opportunity for future cycles of marine planning and the extent to which specific forward marine planning functions should be devolved to regional, local or national level. Coastal partnerships will bring together an area's coastal community to address issues of concern, share best practice and resources and facilitate communication, and I expect that the selected pilot partnerships for coastal areas will be rolled out by my Department over the next 12 months.
I thank all Members for taking the time to make their contributions. I have heard the issues causing frustration, but I wish to put on the record the robust process this went through over a number of years. Everyone had an opportunity to engage, including those who did so successfully, with the Department and our expert advisory group.