Independent review of Scottish aquaculture consenting

Report of the independent review of the planning and consenting process for Scottish aquaculture, jointly commissioned by Marine Scotland and The Crown Estate.

7 Conclusions

This analysis of the consenting regime for Scottish aquaculture has highlighted a number of opportunities for improvement. There are a quick wins that are comparatively simple and could be implemented quickly to improve existing arrangements.

One stand out quick win is the strengthening of the pre-application discussion process. This would support the industry in how they initiate discussions and ensure the correct information is available to regulators and statutory consultees. If implemented effectively, the additional resources required for statutory consultees and regulators during pre-application discussions would be outweighed by the improved advice given enabling a more efficient and focused application. The update, strengthening and regular review of the Working Arrangements document is also considered an important quick win and has the potential to provide a point of control that can maintain the regime's focus and efficiency across individual authorities and their separate legislative processes.

Scottish aquaculture products enjoy an excellent reputation for quality, and most consider Scottish producers exhibit good practice. These positive characteristics are underpinned by the comprehensive and robust nature of the current consenting process. The changes proposed recognise these positive elements and support them with improved governance processes.

The quick wins and wider recommendations are summarised in Table 7.1.

Table 7.1: Summary of recommendations



Quick Wins


1. Strengthen the pre-application process

2. Introduce consistent format for co-ordinates, site name and summary information

3. Update of Working Arrangements document

4. Integrate wellboat Marine Licence into the CAR Licence

5. Update Scottish Aquaculture portal

6. Support provision of electronic application forms

7. Update EIA template including links to relevant guidance

8. Hold a Landscape and Visual Impact Assessment workshop between SNH, LAs and industry

1. Consolidate Marine Licencing into Planning Permission


Review the moorings and equipment Marine Licence form for finfish and shellfish aquaculture, determine any sections that are not covered by planning permission and amalgamate them into the planning permission application form.

This will allow Marine Licences to be awarded by default when Planning Permission has been consented. This action amalgamates the application processes, but does not remove the Marine Licence altogether.

[It is recommended that this action be prioritised].


Use application form as updated in 1.a to develop one specific form for shellfish and one for finfish.

This will reduce the burden, eliminate confusion and assist the shellfish industry in completing application forms.


Update the consultation status of MCA and NLB to statutory in the planning permission process. [It is recommended that this action be prioritised].


Consider aligning the (currently 6-year) review cycle, that updates UK Hydrographic Office, into a condition of planning, subject to consultation with NLB and agreement with LAs.


Consider removing aquaculture from Marine Licencing requirements via legislative change.

This would fully integrate the objective of Marine Licensing (ensuring navigational safety) within Planning Permission.

2. Review definitions with Town and Country Planning Act & consider long term future Aquaculture Act


Review the definition of fish farming as a 'development' within the 1997 Act (as set out in Circular 1/2007 Planning Controls for Marine Fish Farming) to allow aquaculture related equipment to be partly or wholly removed for normal husbandry operations without relinquishing planning permission ( e.g. specify its change to a 'use' as it is for other terrestrial business activities such as caravan parks).

[It is recommended that this action be prioritised].


Reconsider the potential to codify existing legislation into an Aquaculture Act when the consenting process is considered to be efficient/optimal e.g. via a review in 5 years.

3. Align CAR and Planning Permission


Agree working procedures and arrangements between Local Authorities, SEPA and all statutory consultees to enable the alignment of CAR and Planning Permission consents and therefore a fast-tracked consenting process. [This could be delivered as part of the Working Arrangements document update or as a stand alone procedure]


Support facilitation of one HRA and associated Appropriate Assessment by standardising the format for reporting and setting out clear procedure ( e.g. within Working Arrangements document).


Implement a pilot period to test appropriateness of aligned consents.

Assess outcome of the pilot period to determine if alignment should be made mandatory.

4. Re-assess one-stop shop


Review efficiencies achieved by Options 1 and 3 (after they have been fully implemented) to assess results and determine whether a one-stop shop option would provide further gains.

5. Improve consideration of farmed and wild fish interactions


To support the analysis of risk - ensure monitoring and reporting of sea lice within farmed salmonids is reported at a site level. This will require discussion and agreement between the finfish industry and MSS-FHI on how this is to be implemented, recorded and reported.

[This assumes the decision remains within Planning Permission in the short-term].


To address provision of scientific advice - form a joint agency approach ( e.g. as part of the National Technical Group, which is currently being formed/under discussion) between MSS-FHI, MSS-FFL, SNH, DSFBs and SEPA to take account of information on sea lice levels, treatments, wild fish monitoring and Natura information to enable provision of site specific advice and evaluation that gives a clear steer as to when an aquaculture proposal should be considered acceptable or not with regard to potential wild fish interactions. This could be based on an assessment of risk in data deficient instances.

[This assumes the decision remains within Planning Permission in the short-term]


Update/expand current sea lice modelling tools used by MSS to model sea lice dispersal from a fish farm to inform consenting decisions ( i.e. provide outputs for the joint agency to review and inform their advice).

[This assumes the decision remains within Planning Permission in the short-term]


Move the decision of consent related to wild fish interactions out of Planning Permission and into the remit of MSS-FHI (supported by advice provided via the joint agency (5b)). This could be implemented by expanding the remit already under MSS-FHI control during fish farm operations [13] and via expansion of the APB authorisation at the consenting stage, subject to advice/agreement from MSS-FHI.

If implemented, the above recommendations would result in a streamlined consenting process as illustrated in Figure 7.1.

In comparison to the current consenting system these process improvements would reduce the overall time taken to achieve consent by at least 30 weeks. In comparison to scenario A presented in Figure 4.2, this would lead to consent within 52 weeks ( i.e. 1 year) [14] .

The time and process improvements are achieved through:

  • Integrating certain licensing elements;
  • Aligning CAR and planning processes (made possible through improved pre-application discussions to reduce project risk); and
  • Avoiding duplication in application and consultation, but without removing any of the existing scrutiny or the extent of consultation.

Figure 7.1: Recommended consenting regime for Scottish aquaculture (noting that CAR is required for finfish only)

Figure 7.1: Recommended consenting regime for Scottish aquaculture (noting that CAR is required for finfish only)


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