National Marine Plan Review 2018: three-year report

Scotland's National Marine Plan was adopted and published in March 2015. This is the first review of its implementation.

Report Summary


Scotland’s first statutory National Marine Plan (the Plan) was adopted and published in March 2015. The policies and objectives of the Plan set out how Scottish Ministers intend marine resources to be used and managed out to 200 nautical miles. It supports development and activity in Scotland’s seas while incorporating environmental protection into marine decision-making to achieve sustainable management. The Plan applies to all decisions taken by public authorities which affect this marine area.

Legal requirement for the Review

In accordance with the Scottish and UK legislation, there is a requirement to review and report on the implementation of the Plan. The first review is due 3 years after adoption of the Plan. This report fulfils the commitment. Following consideration of the review report, Ministers must then decide if replacement or amendment of the Plan is required.

The Review Process

Two key strands of work were carried out to assess implementation and effectiveness of the Plan: 1) internal application within Marine Scotland Licensing Operations Team ( MSLOT); and 2) broader consultation with key regulatory and decision making organisations in Scotland - through online questionnaire, a multi-stakeholder workshop hosted by the Scottish Coastal Forum ( SCF) and bilateral meetings. These processes looked to determine the success of Plan policies and identify policies for revision, barriers to successful implementation and Plan areas where change could be beneficial.

1) MS LOT Case Study

The Plan is considered useful by MS LOT as it sets the national context and objectives of the Scottish Ministers and is considered to fit well with the existing legislation that MS LOT must apply. Recent modifications of the licence application process enable better consideration and implementation of the Plan.

2) Implementation and use by other statutory and non-statutory bodies

Planning and licensing authorities, regulators and statutory advisors stated they use the Plan and its policies in the discharge of their statutory functions. Overall, responses indicate some public authorities apply the Plan thoroughly to their decision making and service delivery, but not all are doing so with the same consistency.

Barriers to implementation

Those who engaged in the review, and cited barriers to the implementation of the plan attributed this to lack of awareness and resources and where elements of the Plan or policies are considered not have the required effect.

Effectiveness of Plan policy and progress towards securing objectives

The Review considered the use of data monitoring and other information sources to consider policy effectiveness. The strategic objectives of the Plan are the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive ( MSFD) descriptors and the High Level Marine Objectives ( HLMO), which are arranged under the five guiding principles of sustainability to reflect a commitment to achieving sustainable use of marine resources. The Review Report outlines on-going work in relation to monitoring these objectives on an International, European and Scotland-wide basis and how this will help facilitate revision of the Scotland’s Marine Atlas.

Stakeholder evidence as a measure of policy effectiveness

Effectiveness of policies in relation to decision or policy making

A number of policies and general aspects of the Plan were identified as being particularly effective or useful to decision making. New policies given statutory status by the Plan, such as those in relation to cables and Priority Marine Features ( PMF) had influenced and underpinned decision making.

Policies which are considered challenging to the decision making process

It was suggested policy incompatibilities could be managed by taking a longer term vision for the Plan to allow development of policies over time and progression towards longer term goals. An assessment of whether Plan policies rely on voluntary measures or a regulatory mechanism to implement them could provide a useful analysis of how likely it is for a policy to deliver an outcome. This assessment could be considered in advance of the next Plan.

Moving forward

It was generally commented that given the large uncertainties around the UK leaving the EU, now is not the time to amend or replace the Plan. Only when full details of the future relationship with the EU are known, will it be possible to do an effective assessment of the impact on the Plan and determine what changes are needed. Other key developments to legal frameworks likely to impact on the Plan and the marine planning framework were noted to include the reform of Crown Estate assets through the Scottish Crown Estate Bill, the Islands (Scotland) Bill, the Community Empowerment Act 2015 and the Planning (Scotland) Bill. Once enacted, any relevant provisions within or outcomes arising from these legislative instruments will need to be reflected in any future marine plans.

In addition the Scottish Government has, or intends to, introduce a number of plans, policies and strategies which will have implications for the marine planning framework in Scotland.

For example, Scotland’s first Energy Strategy sets out the Scottish Government vision for the future energy system in Scotland including the future development of offshore wind. A Climate Change Plan, will also provide the strategic framework for the transition to a low carbon Scotland.

The Review Report also recognises a number of emerging areas such as seaweed harvesting, invasive and non-natives species ( INNS) and marine litter which will need to be given further accommodation in any future iteration of the National Marine Plan.

Next steps

Scottish Ministers will consider this report and determine whether to replace or amend the Plan. The issues raised along with those in the ‘ Report of the Scottish Coastal Forum’s National Marine Plan Review Workshop, 2018’ and ‘ National Marine Plan Review 2018: Survey Analysis Report’ will be considered in detail, to develop an appropriate work programme to inform any future Plan, Regional Marine Plans ( RMP) and the supporting data, research and assessment programmes.


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