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.

6 Plan-making process

Topics covered:

a) Baseline evidence

b) Spatial information

c) Use of the plan policies and policy terminology

d) Formatting

e) Referencing

f) Planning Issues and Options stage

g) Draft Plan/Plan

h) Approval stages

i) Timescales

j) Resource library

k) Evaluation

6.1 One of the first tasks in any marine plan making process should be to ensure that the core team in particular all review existing ‘Lessons Learned’ type documents, such as this one and those listed in Table 3 below. Depending on the area and the type of plan proposed, it is likely there will be many common elements but also some where previous recommendations may not apply or need to be adapted, so a flexible approach should be taken. The various planning stages for the pilot PFOW Plan, as outlined in Section 2, are summarised in Figure 3 below and discussed in Sections 6 & 7.

Table 3: Sources of information for lessons learned for marine planning.




BaltSeaPlan Findings: Experiences and Lessons

This concisely and clearly outlines the findings of 8 MSP pilot projects covering the Baltic Sea.


Review of the Marine Spatial Plan for the Shetland Islands

This is an appraisal of the 3 rd Edition of the Shetland MSP and an overview of the achievements to date.


SSMEI: Project Evaluation

Marine Scotland’s short review of the four SSMEI projects.


SSMEI Clyde Pilot: Lessons Learned for Marine Spatial Planning in Scotland

The report makes observations and recommendations concerning future RMPs in Scotland.


Figure 3: Steps used to develop the PFOW marine spatial plan

Figure 3: Steps used to develop the PFOW marine spatial plan

6a) Baseline evidence

6.2 The PFOW MSP Framework formed the initial baseline (Stage 1) and identified the main gaps in knowledge. The Framework was supported by Regional Locational Guidance ( RLG) for the offshore wind, wave and tidal energy sector, initially published in March 2010, in advance of the Marine Atlas (March 2011). Updated versions of the RLG were produced in March 2011 [11] and June 2015 [12] . The Stage 2 studies outlined in Table 4, Section 7, were identified through the initial Framework process and these studies enhanced the baseline evidence throughout the plan making process.

6.3 A key lesson from the Stage 2 studies is that the collection of baseline data to fill data gaps requires significant financial and staff resources. Many of these studies ran concurrently with Stage 3 i.e. the plan making process. It should also be noted that data gaps still exist and an ongoing process of data collection is required to support the development and monitoring of a marine spatial plan.

6.4 As part of Stage 3, a Plan Scheme [13] (2012) set out the step by step process on how the pilot Plan would be prepared. The Plan Scheme was based on the original strategic area identified by the Crown Estate as the development area for offshore marine renewable energy, prior to the identification of the Scottish Marine Regions. The area extended to incorporate the two Scottish Marine Regions of Orkney and the North Coast following feedback from the consultation process during July 2013 and on-going development of the process of defining the Scottish Marine Regions. The Plan Scheme was in effect a Statement of Public Participation, as required in by the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010, Schedule 1, which set out the proposed steps, timescales and likely public engagement opportunities. This was subsequently followed by regular stakeholder updates (see section 8a).

6.5 Data from National Marine Plan interactive ( NMPi) (see below) also provides significant, up to date data, which should provide the initial baseline for all Scottish regional marine plans.

6b) Spatial Information

6.6 A key theme throughout the plan making process for some stakeholders related to how spatial the Plan should be in terms of future development and activities. The Planning Issues and Options Consultation Paper [14] suggested an overarching spatial strategy with some maps identifying key features such as natural heritage designations and mapping existing use. This was generally supported by the majority of respondents and throughout the process, respondents made it clear that a strict zoning approach was not required; nor was it achievable at this stage. Most commercial sectors however thought their sector should be given priority, whilst others thought the protection of the marine environment should be given priority.

6.7 One of the key questions that emerged through the Pentland Firth and Orkney Waters pilot plan making process is whether the plan should identify areas for future marine developments, uses and activities. The primary focus of the PFOW pilot plan has been to establish a coherent strategic vision, objectives and policies to guide the regulation, management and use of the plan area. This policy framework is supported by spatial data to identify existing use, infrastructure, sensitivities and potential constraints. To guide marine developments, uses and activities to the most suitable areas, it has been suggested that the plan should go one step further by identifying areas of use for specific economic sectors.

6.8 The PFOW Regional Locational Guidance ( RLG) (2011) set out baseline information on existing use, sensitivities and constraints and was updated in 2015 (see Section 7a). This approach aimed to provide specific spatial guidance to the offshore wind, wave and tidal sector to assist with locating their developments. The PFOW RLG provides further regional guidance to support the Sectoral Marine Plans and the development of the Plan Option areas which are identified within the pilot Plan.

6.9 The pilot Plan refers aquaculture developers and interested stakeholders to the Orkney Aquaculture Planning Policy Advice that contains a spatial strategy for aquaculture development through the identification of a Broad Area of Search and Area of Potential Sensitivity.

6.10 The Scottish Environment Protection Agency advocated identifying areas most appropriate for development whilst the Royal Yachting Association suggested each case needs to be considered on its merits within the current licensing system. Scottish Natural Heritage suggested, that whilst it would not favour prescriptive zoning, there may be scope to provide broad indications of areas of higher or lower levels of opportunity or constraint for particular types of development i.e. ‘soft zoning’. In order to try and determine how this could be achieved, a workshop exercise was undertaken at a Scottish Marine Spatial Planners Group meeting. This involved trying to consider how a soft zoning approach could be applied to a particular sector and raised a number of points, including:

  • The need for recognition that zoning a particular activity can imply nowhere else is available for it and no one else can use it; both of these assumptions are incorrect
  • Discussing zoning options at an early stage of plan consultation is a good way to engage people in the process and can aid constraints mapping
  • The need to be realistic and reasonable about what can go where; some activities are easier to map than others
  • The approach does not adequately consider mobile species
  • It may be appropriate to small sub-regions with a regional marine plan area, where the integration within land use planning should be considered to ensure there are no conflicts in policy approaches
  • Detailed zoning is very resource intensive

6.11 This exercise demonstrated that a zoning approach, or identification of broad areas of opportunity and further constraints mapping i.e. soft zoning, were unrealistic within the resources of this pilot project. However, it may be appropriate for some MPPs to consider identifying some sectors that may benefit from a zoning or similar approaches at a sub-plan level, potentially identifying areas of conflict and mitigation required. Now that NMPi is well established, it provides a significant resource to underpin Regional Marine Plans.

6.12 For purposes of comparison the PFOW pilot plan adopted a similar policy and spatial approach to the Shetland Islands Marine Spatial Plan ( SIMSP). The SIMSP has a policy framework that applies to all developments and activities under the sections ‘Clean and Safe’ and ‘Healthy and Diverse’ to implement its vision. The PFOW pilot Plan’s comparable policy framework is set out under the General Policies. Both plans have a set of sector specific policies to support the sustainable development and management of key economic sectors. The policies in both plans are supported by spatial information to identify existing use, infrastructure, sensitivities and potential constraints. The SIMSP has a more comprehensive range of spatial information within the plan including more data on the location of habitats, species and the nature of the physical environment.

6.13 The Shetland Regional Locational Guidance for Wave and Tidal Energy takes a different approach to the PFOW RLG. The Shetland guidance uses a spatial model to map the areas of lowest constraint for wave and tidal energy developments and associated coastal onshore infrastructure. The guidance is designed as a decision support tool to inform decisions about where developments are likely to be successful and where they are not. The level of constraint associated with identified features and activities was determined through a process of stakeholder engagement enabling areas of low constraint to very high constraint to be identified. The PFOW RLG identifies a range of resources, features, activities and potential constraints without attributing any weighting to these factors.

6.14 As the pilot project evolved, a major source of mapping data was Marine Scotland’s National Marine Plan interactive ( NMPi). This interactive tool has been designed to assist in the development of national and regional marine planning. NMPi allows you to view different types of information for all of Scotland’s marine waters and, where appropriate, links have been provided to the related parts of Scotland's Marine Atlas and will also be provided to the National Marine Plan in due course. These data are constantly updated therefore will be a major resource for MPPs.

6c) Use of the plan policies and policy terminology

6.15 It is important to establish agreed principles as to how the policies in a plan will be implemented and by whom (e.g. through consenting decisions, through direct projects, through management measures, wider initiatives etc). If this is clear from the outset, stakeholder engagement can be more effective and appropriate policies can be developed. For the PFOW pilot, the working group were careful to ensure that the plan policies did not over step the plan’s non-statutory remit.

6.16 The weight attributed to each policy in decision making and how the policies relate to each other should be clarified. The PFOW pilot plan was developed so that all policies had equal weight in decision making and should be applied proportionately to any given development and/or activity depending on the particular circumstances including type, scale, location and any potential impacts.

6.17 It is also important to agree definitions of terminology as earlier as possible in the plan making process e.g. development, activities, marine users etc., along with providing a glossary in the early consultation stages. This assists with consistent wording of policies and supporting text and also provides a shared and transparent understanding of meaning. The terminology used in policies should reflect any relevant legal or policy requirements.

6d) Formatting

6.18 Formatting can take up a significant amount of time when preparing the documents. It would therefore save time and effort if a basic format was agreed and adhered to from the outset. For example, consistency in the use of font size, justification of paragraphs, use of headings/style, bullet points and information boxes can save a lot of time later on; setting up a Word template can help with this. It is also helpful if key terms and how they are formatted are determined from an early stage, for example, how the draft plan is referred to (draft Plan, draft plan, Draft Plan). A crib sheet of all these issues can be useful, particularly when there are several people drafting different sections of the documents. However, developing a template early on may be too restrictive when the important factor is capturing the text. The level of administrative support available may dictate what works most efficiently.

6e) Referencing

6.19 To what extent supporting documents are referenced and the format used should be determined from an early stage to ensure conformity between all the people working on different parts of the marine spatial plan. It would also help ensure key evidence and information quoted from these documents are not lost. Using hyperlinks in the body of text may be helpful but also may make documents harder to trace if external web-links are broken as the document ages.

6f) Planning Issues and Options stage

6.20 The Planning Issues and Options Consultation Paper (known as the PIOP) aimed to facilitate consultation on the vision, strategic objectives, key themes and policy areas in advance of drafting the marine spatial plan. The document outlined the key strategic development issues, and potential interactions between marine users, and set out a range of policy options for sustainable development and marine management. Preferred policy options, and potential alternatives, for tackling key marine planning issues were presented alongside consultation questions seeking stakeholder views. It was followed by a consultation analysis and report (see Section 7d).

6.21 The PIOP provided stakeholders with information on the following topics:

  • The plan preparation process and the approach to policy development
  • Legal and policy context
  • Knowledge and evidence underpinning the plan
  • The purpose, users, status and spatial extent of the pilot plan
  • Guiding principles and themes
  • Strategic Vision, Aims and Objectives
  • Identified strategic issues and interactions
  • Spatial strategy and information
  • Proposed crosscutting or overarching marine planning policy areas e.g. nature conservation, coastal erosion and flooding
  • Proposed sectoral policy topics e.g. marine renewable energy and aquaculture and
  • Monitoring and review suggestions

6.22 Similar to the ‘Main Issues Report’ process in land use planning, the PIOP stage aimed to ‘front load’ the consultation process so that the plan makers could take cognisance of stakeholder views in the drafting the marine spatial plan. Whilst this step in the process is not legally required in the preparation of marine plans, it was considered very beneficial for the following reasons:

  • It facilitated a debate on the purpose and function of the MSP and enabled the working group to be aware of the expectations and aspirations of stakeholders before drafting the Plan
  • To build consensus on the purpose and function of the MSP
  • It facilitated the consideration of a range of alternative approaches to marine spatial planning and policy development
  • It helped to consider any potential limitations of the pilot MSP and to manage expectations appropriately
  • It enabled the plan makers to make early decisions on the overall approach to the Plan and provide reasons for these decisions to stakeholders and
  • It helped to reduce the potential for fundamental objections later in the process

6.23 Feedback from some of the advisory group members suggested that the process could be much more simplified at this stage by producing a short newsletter style approach outlining key policy themes and discussion topics, including a response form, which may lead to a more helpful response from stakeholders. This approach would be both cost effective and less time consuming, especially given there would be no accompanying draft Environmental Report at that stage. However, for this Plan process, it was felt that the PIOP stage saved a lot of time and effort at later stages and allowed for detailed stakeholder engagement. It is worth noting however, that as the marine planning process is so new, some people may have felt they may not have had sufficient knowledge to contribute effectively.

6g) Draft Plan/Plan

6.24 Preparation of the draft Plan and the final Plan was shaped by all the information gathered in the stages and processes outlined throughout this document. Key tasks and policies were divided among the working group members, each of whom acted as policy or section lead, as appropriate. This entailed consulting colleagues, key stakeholders and individual members of the advisory group, as required. Significant help and advice was given in particular by various Marine Scotland and Scottish Government staff; this included mapping input, sense checking of documents, specialist advice and the production of many of the supporting documents (see Section 7). Given the nature of the document, there was also considerable discussion within the working group to try and reduce the need for excessive cross-referencing throughout the Plan.

6.25 The draft Plan went out to public consultation between June and September 2015. During this time, it was circulated to the stakeholders on the database, publicised in the local press and presented to local authority committees. It was also presented to local communities at consultation events in Stromness, Thurso and Durness: details on the various engagement activities can be found in Section 8. The subsequent responses, along with further input from the advisory group and Marine Scotland, were collated in a Consultation and Modifications ( CAM) Report (see Section 7) and used to prepare the final Plan. Again, it was presented to Orkney Islands Council and Highland Council committees prior to final sign off by Scottish Ministers, as discussed below.

6h) Approval stages

6.26 As noted in Section 4a, the Plan and its associated documents were considered at a number of local authority committees, as well as sign off from Scottish Ministers, which affected timescales. Other MPPs may vary significantly in the approval stages required, depending on their core decision-making group and governance arrangements. In particular, MPPs which include several local authorities may wish to delegate one lead representative authority. However they are set up, timings of committee (and other key organisations) meetings should be considered when planning the initial timetable of the project.

6i) Timescales

6.27 This project started in 2008 and resulted in the publication of a Framework & Regional Locational Guidance document in 2011. This document did not set out a timetable for the rest of the project but did provide the three stage process that was adopted i.e. Framework, Stage 2 Studies and Plan preparation. The Plan Scheme (see Appendix 4) showed that the initial timescale for completion of the project was summer 2014. This was clearly overly ambitious, as was highlighted at an early stage by some members of the advisory group. It has taken four years to produce the draft Plan, which is commensurate with the development of land-use Local Development Plans. Given the relative novelty of preparing marine spatial plans in Scotland, and the resources available, and the inclusion of the PIOP stage, this is a considerable achievement with a core team of 2.0 FTE staff.

6j) Resource Library

6.28 Throughout the plan-making process around 200 documents were consulted and added to a background database library. The types of literature consulted included scientific reports, sectoral publications, academic journals, government guidance and legislation.

6k) Evaluation

6.29 Evaluation is generally recognised as an essential step for learning and improvement in marine spatial planning (Carneiro, 2013). For the PFOW process, this started with the commitment in the Plan Scheme to undertake a review of the pilot plan making process. As the project developed, notes were made on key lessons learned to inform this document, which forms a key part of the evaluation processes. However, as this is a non-statutory pilot plan, it will not undergo the same review process as is required for the subsequent statutory regional marine plans that will replace it in due course.

6.30 Schedule 1 of the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 sets out the legal steps required for the preparation and adoption of a statutory marine plan. This includes setting out:

  • A Statement of Public Participation
  • A Timetable
  • How it conforms with the National Marine Plan and other guidance
  • How people can engage with the process
  • A draft plan on which presentation can be made
  • Independent examination procedures, if required
  • The final plan along with a report detailing any modifications made to the draft plan and reasons for these modifications

6.31 The PFOW Plan conformed with all of these actions other than the independent examination, as this was not deemed necessary for this non-statutory pilot process.

6.32 Ehler (2014) has produced a detailed guide that outlines an eight step procedure to effective evaluation. MPPs may find this a helpful approach and should ensure that it is considered from an early stage, which in turn helps ensure quality evaluation.

General Discussion: Plan-making process

6.33 The methodology used to develop the Plan adapted a number of steps borrowed from land use planning to help ensure the process was open and transparent. The two-step consultation process i.e. the PIOP and the draft Plan, along with the initial framework, Plan Scheme and regular updates, provided several opportunities for stakeholders to engage in the process. Whilst some felt the PIOP stage was too detailed, it proved to be valuable in helping to shape the draft Plan. The PIOP helped ensure that the major policy areas and issues had been identified at an early stage, reducing the risk of a major re-write following public consultation on the draft Plan. It was also beneficial to build a general consensus on the purpose, implementation and limitations of the Plan through consideration of a range of options.

6.34 Members of the advisory group commented that the consultation on the vision, aims and objectives at the PIOP stage should have been supported by separate ‘visioning’ workshops with stakeholders. The working group saw merit in this approach but were unable to carry out these workshops due to constraints on time and staff resources. As discussed in the project management and resources section of this report, consultation and wider stakeholder engagement will be a resource intensive element of any marine spatial planning project.

6.35 It was noted that the main Plan text ends with the sectoral policy on defence. The Plan may have been improved if a short summary or conclusions section was added, therefore the MPPs may wish to consider this for their plans.

6.36 Marine Scotland and the local authorities all intend to set up a system of recording how the Plan is used in licensing decisions and planning applications and it would be useful to provide information to MPPs on how this is set up. This monitoring process may help MPPs evaluate which policies are being applied most often and how the Plan is contributing to making such decisions.

Evidence/Supporting Documents

6.37 The PIOP, the draft Plan, final Plan.

Key points: 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


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