The Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 marked the first step toward a comprehensive management system for the seas and coasts of Northern Ireland. Due to the nature of devolved settlement for Northern Ireland and the complex mix of devolved and reserved functions, the framework for marine planning will be achieved through three interlocking pieces of legislation:
- The UK Marine and Coastal Access Act of 2009;
- The UK-wide 2010 Marine Strategy Regulations (transposing the Marine Strategy Framework Directive); and
- The forthcoming Northern Ireland Marine Bill.
The UK Act, insofar as marine planning is concerned, extends to NI in relation to:
- The UK-wide Marine Policy Statement (MPS); and
- NI’s offshore region (from the 12nm limit to the boundary of the Northern Ireland zone), for which the Department of the Environment (DOE) is the marine plan authority.
There is no proposal at this time to delegate marine plan functions for Northern Ireland to any other public body.
Given that the extent of Northern Ireland marine waters is small in comparison to those identified by the MMO for English waters, a single plan covering NI’s inshore andoffshore regions is proposed with the power to create more localized plans will be developed.
A team within the DOE’s Planning Service is responsible for development and implementation of Northern Irelands’s marine plan. While it will be responsible for the preparation of a marine plan for Northern Ireland, responsibility for regulating other aspects of marine related activity are spread across other Northern Ireland departments. For example, sea fisheries and aquaculture are the domain of the Department for Agriculture and Rural Development, while marine renewable energy is the responsibility of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment.
Nonetheless, and in accordance with the UK Act, DOE as the marine plan authority will consult with all other relevant Northern Ireland departments during the preparation of the consultation draft Marine Plan, and text of the final plan for adoption.
Northern Ireland has begun the formal process of plan making following introduction of primary legislation through its Marine Bill in 2012.