Pilot Pentland Firth and Orkney Waters Marine Spatial Plan. Lessons Learned.

A summary of the Lessons Learned during the process of developing the pilot Pentland Firth and Orkney Waters Marine Spatial Plan.

9 Overall Discussion

9.1 Overall, the pilot Pentland Firth and Orkney Waters project was a success as it delivered the main outputs i.e. the Plan and all its associated documents, in a relatively timely fashion compared to other local development plans. The various documents produced provide a lot of guidance on how to go about constructing a marine plan, which in turn built on the knowledge gained from previous projects in the UK, the EU and beyond. Some feedback from the advisory group suggests that given the time and budget constraints, the project as a whole went well and gives a good indication of the work required for subsequent Regional Marine Plans ( RMP). Others in the group felt that the Plan could have provided much more detailed regional guidance.

9.2 Feedback from the advisory group showed that the members had sufficient opportunity to feed into the plan making process but greater use may have been made of the expertise available. While members acknowledged that the advisory group was effective, it may have benefited from a slightly larger, more balanced, membership. It was suggested that specific task groups chaired or facilitated by individual advisory group members could supplement advisory groups, including single representatives of statutory consultees, key sectors and communities. This could draw on a wider range of local stakeholders; for example Scottish Natural Heritage or Scottish Environment Protection Agency might be tasked with leading a group to advise on regional issues and priorities with respect to safeguarding the natural environment.

9.3 One query raised related to whether or not the Plan should have provided more detail on the variations between the areas, given that they will form two separate Scottish Marine Regions ( SMR). It was felt however that the approach was appropriate, as it demonstrated how SMRs that encompass diverse geographic and local authority boundaries can work together to ensure an integrated approach. As acknowledged in the Plan, there is however an inherent degree of uncertainty surrounding the potential impacts of the Plan policies, particularly as many are likely to be influenced by a range of site and project specific factors. The absence of agreed specific measurable targets for marine planning highlights that further work is required to ensure effective delivery of both marine plans and marine planning.

Discussion themes

9.4 Following on from the detailed topics covered in Sections3 - 8, a number of key themes are now discussed in a wider context.

Length of Plan

9.5 One of the repeated feedback comments on the Plan was that it was too long or “intimidatingly long”. Some stakeholders felt there should have been an accompanying document that summarised the policies only and much of the information they regarded as ‘background’ should have been put in appendices or cut down considerably e.g. legislative requirements. The short summary document and updated topic sheet (see Section 7k) addresses these concerns by providing a brief overview of the Plan and the wider project.

9.6 With hindsight, a number of policies could possibly have been combined into one e.g. Sectoral Policies 6 (Marine Transport) and 7 (Ports, Harbours and Dredging). However, there were quite a number of comments asking for additional, quite detailed, information to be added to various sections of the Plan (see Section 10). Several of these requests were for issues beyond the realistic scope of the Plan, including:

  • How Regional Marine Plans and fisheries management will integrate in the future
  • Ecological impacts of fishing
  • Biological constraints and seabed bathymetry mapping of spawning, hatching and juvenile areas of fishing areas
  • Identification of where land-based development is required to support recreational use of the marine environment
  • Request for an action plan style approach included in the Plan (see also Brooker et al, 2015, p.10), which set out specific key actions needed to support the Plan objectives, particularly in relation to informing activity not subject to marine licensing. This could be linked to risk analysis principles, tools and methodologies. However, it is likely that a Regional Marine Plan would have to be developed in the first instance to provide the framework and evidence base before an action plan could be developed.
  • Preparation of a Coastal Issues Report, to aid consistency with land use plans

9.7 As a pilot process, the document had to explain the processes involved in preparing the Plan. The planning policies needed to inform and be accessible to a broad range of plan users with a varying knowledge, sectoral interests, national and local interests and familiarity with the policy and legal framework. Therefore, reflecting statutory requirements in policy is essential to ensure compliance as well as aiding transparency in decision making. In addition, the National Marine Plan placed considerable reliance on the delivery of detail to regional Marine Planning Partnerships.

9.8 Subsequent MPPs should explore ways to streamline their plans and their plan making process, without losing essential detail. For example, Marine Scotland could identify core policies or supporting text e.g. legislative requirements, enforcement mechanisms, which would be the same for all eleven Regional Marine Plans. This could be incorporated into one overarching regional guidance document or into National Marine Plan guidance to avoid replication e.g. nature conservation guidance and policies. It is likely that most regional marine plans would start out as quite detailed documents that could in time be slimmed down as the process evolves and experience of plan implementation develops.

9.9 The potential use of supplementary guidance to support core policies in the plan was raised by Orkney Islands Council. It is acknowledged that there is no current provision for statutory supplementary guidance within the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010. However, this approach may prove useful in future to support more streamlined regional marine plans.

Data gaps

9.10 Throughout the pilot process, it has been acknowledged that a number of data gaps remain. Some of these gaps are in the process of being filled by various research studies e.g. the Marine Recreation and Tourism study and ongoing marine renewables studies. Future MPPs should also consider if there is information that is already gathered routinely that, with some minor changes, could provide useful data for updating the regional marine plans.

Integration with land use planning

9.11 This pilot project demonstrated how close collaboration between the two local authorities in the Plan area and the project lead, i.e. Marine Scotland, can ensure cross-boundary integration of marine plan making. As a direct result of this pilot, the proposed new Caithness and Sutherland Local Plan includes a section on marine planning and makes a commitment to have regard to the PFOW Plan, as well a commitment to include stronger policy links in the revised Highland-wide Local Development Plan process.

9.12 The Orkney Local Development Plan is being revised through 2016 which has enabled the plan policies to be aligned with the marine spatial plan. This is particularly relevant to policies for coastal development, coastal processes and flooding, piers and harbours, the natural environment and onshore infrastructure for marine energy projects.

9.13 This joint process will also ensure the subsequent regional plans for Orkney and the North Coast have a significant base to build upon. It is likely that the Orkney RMP will proceed before the North Coast one and will be led by Orkney Islands Council. During 2016, Orkney Islands Council will engage with Marine Scotland, Elected Members and wider stakeholders to canvas views on the future delivery of statutory regional marine planning in Orkney. This will involve discussions with government, commercial, environmental and recreational interests seeking views on how they might engage in a future Marine Planning Partnership and the preparation of a statutory regional marine plan for Orkney. It is envisaged that this period of stakeholder engagement will be followed by a formal direction by Scottish Ministers to facilitate the delegation of functions in relation to regional marine plans to appropriate delegates in Orkney. In the meantime, stakeholders interested in projects or activities on the north Caithness and Sutherland coast can continue to use the non-statutory pilot PFOW plan and the statutory NMP to provide evidence and information to support their proposals.

Key points: General discussion

  • Subsequent Marine Planning Partnerships should explore ways to streamline their plans and their plan making process e.g. overarching national guidance on generic issues
  • Absence of agreed specific measurable targets for marine planning requires further research
  • Explore ways in which data gaps can be addressed, including citizen science.
  • Ensure close collaboration with neighbouring marine regions and local authorities to ensure effective integration
  • Prior to the development of statutory Regional Marine Plans, the pilot Pentland Firth and Orkney Waters Marine Spatial Plan can be used as a significant resource to support projects and activities


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