Pilot Pentland Firth and Orkney Waters Marine Spatial Plan - Sustainability Appraisal

This report summarises the findings of the Sustainability Appraisal undertaken on the draft pilot Pentland Firth and Orkney Waters Marine Spatial Plan incorporating a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) required under Directive 2001/42/EC and the Env

1 Non-Technical Summary

1.1 What is the Draft Pilot Pentland Firth and Orkney Waters ( PFOW) Marine Spatial Plan?

1.1.1 The Draft Pilot Pentland Firth and Orkney Waters ( PFOW) Marine Spatial Plan (the draft Pilot Plan) is a non-statutory document that sets out an integrated planning policy framework to guide marine development, activities and management decisions in the PFOW area, whilst ensuring the quality of the marine environment is protected. The draft Pilot Plan aims to set out a coherent strategic vision, objectives and policies to further the achievement of sustainable development; including the protection and, where appropriate, enhancement of the marine environment out to 12 nautical miles. It aims to balance the competing demands of economic sectors and local communities for the use of the coastal and marine waters in the PFOW, whilst promoting sustainability, early engagement amongst stakeholders and the protection of the coastal and marine environments on which these sectors and communities depend.

1.1.2 As a non-statutory Plan, it is likely to complement and support existing ambitions and responsibilities rather than replace them. It is anticipated that the finalised Pilot Plan will establish a useful basis for the preparation of the two separate Regional Marine Plans for the Orkney and North Coast Scottish Marine Regions to be prepared under the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 (the 2010 Act). The lessons learned should help to inform the preparation of these plans and the governance arrangements that could underpin Marine Planning Partnerships.

1.1.3 Figure 1.1 presents the geographic coverage of the Pilot Plan which combines the Scottish Marine Regions of Orkney and North Coast (the Pilot Plan area).

1.2 What is a Sustainability Appraisal ( SA)?

1.2.1 A Sustainability Appraisal ( SA) is a process undertaken to promote sustainable development through the integration of social, environmental, and economic considerations in plan-making. This report presents the findings of the SA undertaken on the draft Pilot Plan, incorporating a Strategic Environmental Assessment ( SEA) required under Directive 2001/42/ EC and the Environmental Assessment (Scotland) Act 2005 (the 2005 Act), a Socio-economic Assessment and work undertaken to meet obligations under the European Commission ( EC) Habitats Regulations ( HRA).

Figure 1.1 The Pilot Plan Area

Figure 1.1 The Pilot Plan Area

1.3 How was the Sustainability Appraisal undertaken?

1.3.1 The SA was undertaken alongside the development of the draft Pilot Plan in an iterative and integrated process. This process enabled decision-making to be informed by relevant environmental and socio-economic information, and also enabled the Pilot Plan and its policies and reasonable alternatives, to be tested against relevant environmental and socio-economic objectives.

1.3.2 This integrated SA Report presents the findings of the SEA, HRA and Socio-economic assessments on the draft Pilot Plan and its policies. The integration of these separate components into one report has enabled the potential for cumulative impacts on the environment, communities and other coastal and marine users to be considered in a cohesive way, and for recommendations of a holistic nature to be drawn. It has also allowed for the consideration of cumulative effects associated with the group of policies and the overall ambitions of the draft Pilot Plan. This was identified as a particular advantage in undertaking an integrated assessment given the close interactions of environment and socio-economic aspects within the PFOW, and the role that the marine environment plays in supporting the many local communities in the Pilot Plan area.

1.4 What are the reasonable alternatives to the draft Pilot Plan?

1.4.1 Four broad alternatives identified in the development of the draft Pilot Plan:

  • Do not develop a Pilot Plan – this alternative considered not preparing a Pilot Plan but rather to proceed directly with the development of the Orkney and North Coast Regional Marine Plans under the 2010 Act It also included an option involving to the potential development of separate Pilot Plans for the Orkney and North Coast regions to inform the development of these regional plans.
  • Consider adopting a ‘zoned approach’ in the development of a Pilot Plan – this alternative involved looking at the zoning of marine areas in the Plan area for different types of marine uses and/or development.
  • Limiting the scope of the Pilot Plan to outlining existing requirements for developers and marine users – this alternative involved limiting the scope of the Plan to setting out the current requirements for developers and marine users in the PFOW area, and raising awareness of existing obligations.
  • Adopting a ‘staged approach’ seeking to usefully inform the development of the upcoming statutory Regional Marine Plans for the Orkney and North Coast regions under the 2010 Act area – this was identified as the preferred alternative for the draft Pilot Plan and involved building upon the intent of the previous alternatives.

1.4.2 In addition to the four broad alternatives discussed above, a wide range of other options were received via comments or suggestions from stakeholders during previous engagement events, and these comments helped to inform the development of the draft Pilot Plan. As a consequence, many of these views have been incorporated into the preferred option, either through inclusion as provisions in specific policy areas or in the overall approach of the Pilot Plan.

1.5 What is the current state of the environment?

1.5.1 The PFOW is rich in biodiversity, supporting a wide range of important habitats and species; many of which are considered rare and/or vulnerable. In addition to forming key elements of the quality of biodiversity in the PFOW and Scotland’s seas, these species and habitats also provide environmental, social and economic benefits, and help to support local communities and a wide range of industries operating in and near the PFOW area.

1.5.2 Coastal and marine biodiversity is protected by a range of European, UK and Scottish-level designations. The value of many marine and coastal habitats in the PFOW, such as submerged reefs, maerl beds, sandbanks, salt marshes and dune systems, including machair, is demonstrated through these designations. The Caithness, North Sutherland and Orkney coastlines are also recognised for their importance in supporting extensive colonies of migratory and breeding seabirds, and coastal and marine waters support important fauna including grey and harbour seals, cetaceans (e.g. whales, dolphins, porpoises) and other species (e.g. Atlantic salmon, common skate, basking sharks, commercial fish species).

1.5.3 Climate change is predicted to have a range of effects on the marine and coastal environment, including an expected increase in water temperature and acidity, rise in sea levels, changes in wave heights and subsequent changes to our coastlines. There is clear indication that the effects of climate change are already creating changes in the PFOW area, and that this is having effects on other aspects of the environment. For example, impacts on weather patterns such as changes in temperature, changes in levels and timing of rainfall, and subsequent changes on marine biodiversity (e.g. extension of northern limit of seabed fauna, increased vulnerability of some species and habitats).

1.5.4 The rich marine heritage of the PFOW waters is demonstrated through the establishment of a voluntary underwater conservation zone in place around the remains of seven scheduled wrecks of ships from the German High Seas Fleet located within Scapa Flow. Alongside a raft of designated wreck sites such as the HMS Bullen and the wreck of HMS Duke of Albany either in and near the Pentland Firth, these provides a glimpse of the many wreck sites identified in the waters around Orkney. In addition to off-shore heritage, historic and cultural features such as listed buildings, gardens and designated landscapes, and historic monuments are also in abundance across both the Orkney Isles and the north Caithness and Sutherland coast. Of particular note is the Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site ( WHS) which occupies much of the west coast of the Orkney Mainland and the Isle of Hoy. While many sites lie wholly within the marine environment, it is believed that there are many more unprotected sites of interest on and around Scotland’s coastline.

1.5.5 The value and variety of landscapes and seascapes in the PFOW area is demonstrated through the range of national and regional designations amongst other forms of recognition. Important landscapes such as the Hoy and West Mainland, and Kyle of Tongue National Scenic Areas ( NSAs) receive protection at the national level. However, other levels of recognition within the PFOW area include the designation of five Special Landscape Areas ( SLAs) by the Highland Council on the north coast of the Scottish mainland, the creation of wild land areas and areas of “high wildness” by Scottish Natural Heritage ( SNH) on Hoy. Several additional areas along or near to the north Caithness and Sutherland coast were also identified as being of national importance in Scottish Planning Policy ( SPP).

1.5.6 The Orkney seabed area is generally composed of circalittoral coarse sediments, deep circalittoral coarse sediments and sands all around the Isles, with the exception of deep moderate and high energy circalittoral rock within the narrows of the Pentland Firth. Shallow and deep circalittoral coarse sediments have been predicted to the east and west of the Pentland Firth, interspersed with circalittoral fine or muddy sand pockets offshore of the North Sutherland Coast.

1.5.7 Orkney is regarded as having one of the most active coastlines in the British Isles and coastal erosion and deposition is evident on many sections of the coast, with parts of Sanday and Westray in particular thought to be susceptible to coastal erosion. While the north Caithness and Sutherland coast is generally rocky and resistant to erosion, sections of the coastline at locations including Thurso-Scrabster Bay, Portskerra and near John O’Groats, have also been affected by or are considered vulnerable to erosion/accretion. A degree of protection is afforded to marine geology features in the PFOW area through the designation of Special Areas of Conservation ( SAC) and coastal Sites of Special Scientific Interest ( SSSI). The designation of proposed Marine Protected Areas ( MPAs) at North-west Orkney, Wyre and Rousay Sounds, and Papa Westray also recognises both the biodiversity and geodiversity importance of these areas.

1.5.8 The PFOW play an integral role in providing the means for economic support and also in supporting quality of life for coastal communities within Orkney and along the north Caithness and Sutherland coast. The marine environment offers opportunities in a range of sectors, and attracts a wide range of marine users in supporting industries such as offshore oil and gas, aquaculture, and fishing sectors; and the recreational and tourism sectors ranging from activities such as swimming, surfing, recreational boating and yachting, diving, sea angling, coastal recreation, and wildlife and cultural heritage tourism, amongst others. These activities not only provide opportunities in economic terms, but together with local services such as the provision of ferry services, are also an important aspect in maintaining the connectivity, economy and quality of life in local communities in the region.

1.5.9 While the PFOW is largely classified as being of ‘good’ status under the Water Framework Directive ( WFD) (out to 3 nautical miles) the eastern portion of the Pentland Firth from Duncansby head southwards is classified as being of ‘high’ status. The key risks to the quality of the water environment are from contamination as a result of marine activities, such as pollution from oil and/or chemical spills, and pollution of coastal waters from activities on land, in particular from agricultural activities or as marine litter.

1.5.10 The coastal and marine environment of the PFOW is a key resource for the region and for Scotland, demonstrated by the many varied sectors operating in it. For example, the aquaculture, commercial fisheries, defence, renewable energy generation, leisure, tourism and recreation, shipping and marine transport, and oil and gas sectors all use these waters and the surrounding coastlines. Many of these sectors provide direct economic benefits, including employment opportunities, and indirect benefits for other industries and businesses that provide services and support for these sectors.

1.6 What are the likely significant socio-economic and environmental effects of the draft Pilot Plan?

1.6.1 The SA identified the potential for largely positive environmental and socio-economic effects from the development of the Pilot Plan. Its fundamental focus towards supporting sustainable development has the potential to make a significant contribution to the protection of the coastal and marine resources in the Plan area, with benefits identified for coastal and marine environments in particular. The SA also identified a range of opportunities to deliver benefits to many of the sectors operating in the PFOW and also the communities that they help to support. In particular, working towards ensuring the sustainable future of the PFOW area, promoting co-existence between marine users, promoting early engagement with other stakeholders, and potentially improving efficiency in existing consenting processes, were all noted in the assessment.

1.6.2 The inclusion of general and sectoral policies in the draft Pilot Plan were found to largely complement the positions of existing policy and planning, and add weight to their consideration in the management of future use of the PFOW area. The general policies are aimed at promoting the safeguarding of important environmental and social features (e.g. biodiversity, landscape/seascape, cultural heritage and historic archaeology), and have the potential to contribute to reducing the risk of adverse effects that could be generated through increased use of these coastal and marine environments. With the ‘buy in’ of stakeholders, many may also act as built-in mitigation against the potential for adverse effects associated with inappropriate development or coastal/marine use in the PFOW. The positive messages promoted by the group of policies for the efficient use of the marine area, such as co-existence and shared used of space and facilities, were also identified as key potential outcomes.

1.6.3 Opportunities to improve engagement between future developers, marine users and other stakeholders were identified in the appraisal, alongside the likely benefits of early and improved management of interactions and potential conflicts. In some instances, this could also help to identify opportunities for synergistic benefits amongst stakeholders, including exploring opportunities for community benefits. The sectoral policies in the draft Pilot Plan will likely provide further support for these ambitions at the sectoral level. The SA found that they set out expectations for these sectors and should provide further guidance for developers, marine users, consenting authorities and other stakeholders for future growth centred on appropriate and sustainable development and use of the PFOW area.

1.6.4 However, having the support and ‘buy in’ of stakeholders such as future developers, coastal and marine users, local communities and consenting authorities was identified as an essential factor in the realisation of any potential benefits. Further, this was also seen as being crucial to fostering engagement with stakeholders ahead of the development of the upcoming Orkney and North Coast Regional Marine Plans.

1.6.5 A review of the general and sectoral policies contained in the draft Pilot Plan in the context of the EC Habitats Regulations found that the policies in the draft Pilot Plan will have no likely significant effects ( LSE) on the integrity of any European sites.

1.7 Has the assessment identified any likely challenges or opportunities for mitigation/enhancement?

1.7.1 While the drive for sustainable development and growth within the PFOW area was seen as a key ambition of the Pilot Plan, the growth of marine industry in the region is also likely to present a number of challenges in the future. Without the support of developers, coastal and marine users, consenting authorities and local communities, the SA considered that many of the potential positive effects of the Pilot Plan would be unlikely to materialise. As a consequence, the formal public consultation process and by ongoing engagement with stakeholders is likely to play an important role in obtaining feedback on the draft Pilot Plan from stakeholders, and also in identifying its limitations and opportunities for possible improvement. The reporting and dissemination of lessons learned through the Plan’s development is also likely to usefully inform the development of Regional Marine Plans, both in the PFOW area and in other parts of Scotland.

1.7.2 Resolving data gaps and uncertainty was also seen as a key challenge. Building upon the current knowledge-base from the information gathered for the National Marine Plan ( NMP) and the draft Pilot Plan (e.g. the Regional Locational Guidance ( RLG), Socio-economic and Environmental Baselines) is likely to be a critical aspect in progressing regional marine planning in the PFOW area, and particularly in working towards including more spatial information into the development of the upcoming statutory Orkney and North Coast Regional Marine Plans.

1.7.3 Other challenges in ensuring that environmental, social or economic risks associated with sectoral growth are minimized while growth is optimized, and managing the potential for conflicts between some coastal and marine users were identified as being important challenges. However, it was also noted that growth is likely to be driven by market forces.

1.8 Are there any recommendations for monitoring?

1.8.1 The appraisal noted a range of existing monitoring programmes at the sectoral level, and that monitoring of wider socio-economic and environmental parameters previously established is expected to continue. This ongoing work, complemented by targeted research and monitoring aimed at filling data gaps (i.e. through project work, test and demonstration development, commercial development, academia, amongst others), should aid in building upon the existing knowledge-base for the region, and could help to inform the development of the upcoming Regional Marine Plans.

1.8.2 The assessment identified monitoring to be an important means of observing the potential impacts of sectoral growth in the area, and in identifying the actual effects of the Pilot Plan and the upcoming statutory Regional Marine Plans. Opportunities in working towards a more detailed picture of sectoral growth, identifying where sectors are developing at a faster pace than others, social and economic impacts and trends, consequences for particular environmental receptors including cumulative effects, and in helping to identify opportunities for future growth were all noted in the SA.

1.8.3 The assessment also considered that greater information in these areas could be a key aspect in informing the development of the upcoming Regional Marine Plans; particularly if the development of these plans moves towards the inclusion of greater spatial information. In a similar way, this data could also inform the requirements for further environmental assessment at the strategic or project levels, and potentially the revision of the RLG in the future.

1.9 What happens next?

1.9.1 Following the conclusion of the public consultation, the responses received on both the draft Pilot Plan and its supporting documents, including this Sustainability Appraisal, the RLG and Socio-economic Baseline Report, will be analysed and reported. Key messages from respondents in the consultation will be highlighted and the findings of the analysis taken into account in the preparation of the final Pilot Plan anticipated for publication in early 2016.

1.9.2 Upon adoption of the Pilot Plan, a Post-adoption SEA Statement will be prepared, and this will reflect on the findings of the SEA assessment and the views expressed in the consultation. The Statement will also outline how the issues raised have been considered in the finalisation of the Pilot Plan.


Back to top