Planning Circular: The relationship between the statutory land use planning system and marine planning and licensing

All developments and activities which take place in Scotland’s seas have implications onshore too – ranging from changing infrastructure requirements to the impacts on communities of economic growth or decline.

The Scottish Government has produced a cir


66. A Working Arrangements document sets out the respective roles and responsibilities of each of the statutory consultees in relation to aquaculture planning applications. The Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation has produced a good practice guide for industry engagement in the planning process: Industry Protocol for Preparing Planning Applications for Aquaculture Development.

Consenting of marine aquaculture

67. Until 2007, marine aquaculture development was leased and consented either by the Crown Estate or, in their respective areas, by Orkney Islands Council and Shetland Islands Council. Since then, marine aquaculture has required planning permission, and all new fish farms out to 12nm (as well as modifications to existing ones) require a planning application to the relevant terrestrial planning authority. In parallel, the Scottish Government is currently reviewing the fish and shellfish farms consented by the Crown Estate and these two Councils prior to 2007 to determine whether they should be granted permanent planning permission.

68. There is currently no provision for obtaining planning permission in principle for fish farms.

69. The Act empowers the Scottish Ministers to order that marine fish farming is not development under the terrestrial planning system. The effect of such an order, which can only be made with the consent of the planning authority affected, is that new aquaculture development would, in the area covered by the order, no longer require planning permission but would be regulated by the marine licensing regime. Marine Scotland will set out the procedural arrangements in such circumstances. As yet, no such Order has been made.

70. As long as consenting of fish farm development remains the function of a terrestrial planning authority, that authority must continue to determine any such planning applications in accordance with the terrestrial development plan (and with any marine plan for the area) unless material considerations indicate otherwise. Material considerations may include any non-statutory spatial framework for fish farming which the planning authority has adopted and any guidance issued by statutory consultees, for example Marine Scotland's Locational Guidance and Scottish Natural Heritage's Marine Aquaculture and the Landscape. Scottish Planning Policy and the National Planning Framework may also be material.

71. As well as planning permission, all farms need a number of additional consents to operate. These include:

  • an Aquaculture Production Business Authorisation by Marine Scotland's Fish Health Inspectorate ( FHI) under Aquatic Animal Health (Scotland) Regulations 2009; and
  • a licence from Marine Scotland in relation to navigational aspects such as fish farm cages and barges.

72. Finfish farms need a number of additional consents, including:

  • a Controlled Activity Licence ( CAR) licence from SEPA under The Water Environment (Controlled Activities) (Scotland) Regulations 2005. This licence, which is based on the case specific computer simulation modelling of nutrients, veterinary medicines and other chemicals that may be used on the farm, stipulates the biomass of fish that may be cultivated and provides individual approvals for the types and quantities of veterinary medicines or other chemicals that may be used;
  • a licence from Marine Scotland in relation to discharges from wellboats.

73. The Scottish Government introduced certain permitted development rights for fish farms in the summer of 2012. These enable fish farmers to make minor changes to their farms without the need to apply for planning permission. These rights, other than to change between certain fish species, are subject to a process of prior notification and approval by the planning authority.

Planning for marine aquaculture

74. The draft Scottish National Marine Plan sets out high level objectives for aquaculture and some of the factors which will be relevant to decisions on where new aquaculture development should go.

75. Marine Scotland is undertaking a 3-year project to identify areas of opportunity and restriction for both finfish and shellfish sectors. This will include consideration of the risk to wild salmonids from aquaculture.

76. Development plans identify the scope, where any exists, for future aquaculture development. They may be supplemented by fish farming framework plans or an indicative spatial strategy indicating where new fish farms are likely to be acceptable, and where they are not. Presently, these framework plans, where they exist, are associated with terrestrial development plans. For the time being, this should continue.

77. The Scottish Government expects that, in time, regional marine plans, and any supplementary plans or guidance associated with them, will provide the principal spatial framework for decisions about the location of new aquaculture development. In doing so, regional marine plans will need to take account of the pre-existing terrestrial development plan and any spatial framework, and of the impact of any new aquaculture development on terrestrial planning objectives. This shift of spatial planning for aquaculture from terrestrial to marine planning should take place in a manner and time to be agreed between terrestrial and marine planning authorities.


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