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.

Summary of Key Points


  • Small core working group works well: requires full-time staff with a mix of expertise including planning, project management, stakeholder engagement and environmental disciplines
  • Need at least one qualified/experienced planner in the core group
  • Need one person with good organisational skills to manage the whole project, supported by dedicated administrative staff
  • Governance Paper helps clarify roles, authority and approval processes
  • Wider advisory group helps keep process on track, adherence to legal requirements and provides a range of expertise
  • Ensure it is clear from the outset who is dealing with the various additional statutory documents required and what decision-making powers the actual plan-makers have
  • Setting up sub-groups to deal with specific topics would be helpful for detailed input and was perhaps lacking in this marine plan process
  • Ensure clarity on the intended status of the marine spatial plan from the outset

Project Management

  • Be clear from the outset who has overall responsibility for managing the plan making process and who is responsible for providing administrative support
  • Set out clear steps to achieve outcomes desired with realistic timescales
  • Recording and addressing consultation responses requires significant time which should be appropriately built into the work programme
  • Be aware of how much staff time will be required and build in flexibility to accommodate delays
  • Ensure software used is accessible/compatible for all core users
  • Have a secure, shared electronic space for documents
  • Ensure compliance with the National Marine Plan and related documents
  • There is a need to build in the Strategic Environmental Assessment and related requirements
  • Make use of digital media to reduce need for face-to-face meetings
  • Need ongoing, quality Continuing Professional Development
  • Define workloads based on individual team member strengths
  • Define how commercial aspirations will inform the process
  • At the outset, undertake a skills audit to identify the appropriate skills required to produce the plan


  • Be clear from the outset what funding is available and where it will be allocated
  • Staff costs are the most significant resource therefore need to be aware of how much staff time will be required
  • From May 2012 when the Council’s joined the MSP project until Spring 2016, it took the equivalent of 2 Full Time Equivalent staff to prepare the Plan and associated documents
  • Need access to GIS expertise either within the working group or with time allocated to the project
  • Significant value can be obtained from in-kind donations e.g. staff time
  • Local knowledge is a significant resource that must be harnessed effectively
  • Public consultation (and associated printing costs and publicity) can be relatively expensive and resource intensive
  • Significant input from numerous Scottish Government staff was required to prepare the many supporting documents

Plan making process

  • Ensure existing ‘Lessons Learned’ reports and wider experiences of marine spatial planning are studied from the outset
  • Start data gathering exercise early to provide an evidence base and to identify data gaps from the outset
  • Work with appropriate partners to address these data gaps (where possible), identify resources and prioritise future data collection activities
  • Establish a web based GIS system to support the marine spatial plan and provide up to date spatial data e.g. National Marine Plan interactive ( NMPi)
  • Carrying out a planning issues and options stage in the plan making process was beneficial for this project
  • Identify the spatial approach at an early stage e.g. will the Plan identify opportunities for future development
  • Agree consistent terminology for plan policies and supporting text and formatting and reference styles early on in the process to save time and effort later on
  • Ensure sufficient time is allowed for the plan-making process, building in suitable allowance and flexibility for all committee/sign-off requirements
  • Determine the evaluation methods to be used relatively early on in the process

Preparing supporting documents

  • Be clear from the outset what is required and who will lead on the various support documents required
  • Producing Regional Locational Guidance provides a useful starting point for providing baseline evidence
  • Additional studies at plan or sub-plan level may be required to address data gaps therefore need to ensure appropriate time and resources are allocated to them
  • Significant data are now available on NMPi to provide baseline evidence
  • The Sustainability Appraisal is a significant undertaking, requiring detailed specialist knowledge
  • Be clear about the intended status of the supporting documents and their relationship to the Plan
  • Consultation and Modifications reports provide transparent evidence on the process and are useful aide de memoirs for the plan making staff
  • Agree efficient processes for responding to consultation and documenting the outcomes
  • As the Marine Planning Partnerships ( MPP) will be working on long-term statutory plans, the Lessons Learned process will help their plans evolve efficiently


  • Have at least one person dedicated to stakeholder engagement activities e.g. a Plan Communications Officer
  • Establish and continually update a stakeholder contacts database
  • Provide regular, short updates on progress via email or newsletter
  • Keep website up to date
  • Promote collaboration with academic research to help ensure most up to date information is utilised
  • Ensure most popular local media channels are used e.g. local websites, blogs, Facebook groups
  • Ensure all MPP members use every opportunity to promote the Plan at every stage
  • Consider innovative engagement methods to involve wider stakeholders beyond the ‘useful suspects’
  • Measurable targets are yet to be developed to support how well-being, quality of life and amenity will be determined
  • Use of Citizen Science coastal and marine projects may be a good way to involve local communities

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

Future considerations

  • From the earliest stage, determine what the partnership wants their plan to deliver, taking time to establish a joint vision and set of objectives
  • Identify which data gaps can realistically be addressed and associated resources
  • Expectations of what can realistically be delivered needs to be carefully managed as the process of marine spatial planning evolves

Summary of what worked well

  • Partnership between Marine Scotland and local planning authorities
  • Developing a plan that reflects the aspirations of local communities as well as national policy priorities
  • Good small core team with an appropriate mix of expertise
  • Willingness of core agencies to actively participate in advisory group
  • Planning Issues and Options stage to engage stakeholders to shape the plan early in the process to gauge priorities, inform vision, aims and objectives, and scope the policies
  • Engaging stakeholders in identifying the scope of what policies should cover and policy drafting
  • Use of National Marine Plan interactive as a web based mapping tool
  • The substantial resources produced i.e. in the form of the Plan and all its supporting documents, which will help support fragile local communities in North Caithness and Sutherland and Orkney by providing a wealth of marine data on a variety of issues and sectors

Summary of challenges

  • Initial largely marine renewable energy focus of the plan
  • Stakeholder database crashed (June 2013)
  • Managing decision making across multiple organisations
  • Not always clear on sectoral priorities from the outset
  • Needed a more structured approach to engage sectoral interests
  • Differing stakeholder expectations of what the project could realistically deliver
  • Difficult to develop a clear direction for future development and activities within a non-statutory plan
  • Resource constraints restricted ability to address some identified data gaps and to deliver a spatial strategy for future development


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