6 Section 2 - Consenting
This section sets out the quantitative analysis of responses about consenting arrangements for seaweed cultivation, and a summary of the comments made and issues raised by respondents. (These are summarised and discussed under the relevant questions.) Summaries of the findings are presented in boxes at the end of the discussion on each consultation question.
6.1.1 This section of the SPS discussed the current consenting arrangements for seaweed cultivation and outlined four options for consenting in the future.
6.1.2 The four options were:
1. No change ( i.e. continue with marine licensing and, as required, Works Licences).
2. Provide main consent through terrestrial planning regime.
3. Use both planning and marine licensing regimes but differentiate by scale.
4. Transfer seaweed to planning only if it is part of IMTA development.
6.2 Question 6: Which consenting option would be most appropriate for seaweed cultivation?
|1. Seaweed Industry
|2. Aquaculture Industry
|3. Fishing and Aquaculture Industry
|4. Fishing Industry
|5. Cultural Heritage/ Archaeological
|6. Recreational Sector
|7. Voluntary Sector
|8. Academic Sector
|9. Public Body
|10. Farming and Land Use
6.2.1 The response to question 6 was mixed. Of the respondents who answered the question, the most support was for Option 2 (13), with less support for Options 4 (4), 1 (4) and 3 (2). Thirteen respondents (36%) had no preference or did not provide an answer to the question.
6.2.2 Many of the responses contained comments on and suggestions for the options, with several providing the rationale for their preference as well as their views on the other options. For example, some felt that a mixture of two options could provide the best solution, depending on the size and purpose of the development. Several respondents were of the view that none of the options presented provides a holistic and consistent approach.
Option 1: no change
6.2.3 Four respondents, from four different sectors, expressed support for Option 1. In general, these respondents felt that the regulation of marine developments, such as aquaculture, should ultimately be via the marine licensing process.
6.2.4 Another felt that the links between terrestrial and marine planning were important in ensuring consistency across the planning regimes and in decision-making, so that together the two systems achieve sustainable management of the marine environment. Another respondent, a public body, added that they would also support Option 4 related to transferring seaweed to planning in the interim, but only if it is part of an IMTA development.
6.2.5 One respondent reiterated their comments on the Aquaculture and Fisheries Bill, stating that both seaweed harvesting and cultivation should be brought into the marine licensing regime, regardless of scale or links to other aquaculture. They felt that this would help to ensure that environmental interactions were appropriately and fairly managed, and would also allow for better consideration of cumulative environmental impacts with other similar and wider activities. A key concern was that cumulative effects, particularly those on biodiversity, would not be captured by separate consenting regimes.
6.2.6 Others felt that small-scale, inshore developments should be consented through planning, and that larger (medium and extensive), offshore and deep water development should be consented through marine licensing.
Option 2: Provide main consent through terrestrial planning regime
6.2.7 Thirteen respondents supported consenting through the terrestrial planning regime; the public bodies were most supportive of this option. This support largely centred around the view that seaweed is a form of aquaculture and, as such, should be considered within the same consenting regime as other forms of aquaculture ( i.e. finfish and shellfish), to provide a "consistent", "clear" and "holistic" regime.
6.2.8 In their response, a public body stated that option 2 was "the only reasonable and feasible option set out in the consultation". They felt that having all forms of aquaculture considered under the terrestrial planning regime would provide an opportunity to streamline the process; that all sites should be considered under the same process, regardless of their scale; and that this would help to make it easy to understand for all involved, including developers. They cited a recent situation involving an application for sea urchin and seaweed cultivation on an existing Atlantic salmon farm that was dealt with through separate regimes ( i.e. sea urchins under planning and seaweed under TCE lease application, and marine navigation consent for both).
6.2.9 Respondents noted that this option had several advantages over others. For example, one felt that this option would allow IMTA developments to be considered holistically, would promote closer integration between the marine and land use planning processes, and would involve the amendment of just one piece of legislation (the relevant Planning Act).
6.2.10 Others supported the consistency this option would offer, particularly in relation to modifications, for example the addition of seaweed cultivation to shellfish and/or finfish aquaculture ( IMTA). They added that, of all the options presented, Option 2 would be best placed to assess both marine and coastal impacts and allow for community input into decision-making. Another broadly agreed, stating that it would provide an opportunity to consider local context and detail in the process, for example incorporating factors such as the undesignated historic environment that is protected through the Local Development Plan.
6.2.11 Benefits in transparency and local accountability for aquaculture development applications were also noted by some. One local authority felt that the marine licensing process does not benefit from local democracy in decision-making, particularly in instances where there are conflicting issues on a development application. One stated that they considered that "seaweed farming should be brought under planning control as a matter of urgency".
6.2.12 One respondent discussed the consideration of a development's scale. They felt that the only definition of scale needed would be to set the area of surface equipment at which a proposal is defined as a "major development" under the development hierarchy. They suggested the adoption of the 2 hectare (ha) threshold set for finfish and shellfish farming  .
Expertise in regulation
6.2.13 A key concern was the need for provision of adequate expertise in considering seaweed developments, particularly in assessing the marine biology/science aspects of proposals. For example, one respondent noted that it is vital that those with knowledge and an understanding of the marine environment and ecosystems, including consideration of the precautionary principle, be responsible for the consenting process.
6.2.14 There was no consensus as to who might be able to provide such expertise. Some respondents considered that local planning authorities do not have an understanding of these issues, and cited planning consents for major fish farm developments as being of particular concern. Another felt that site-specific advice (rather than generic guidance) should be provided to local authorities by those with the appropriate expertise. In contrast, several local authorities noted their existing experience and expertise, the appropriateness of their existing policy frameworks for guiding future seaweed farm development, and their experience of dealing with complex and detailed Environmental Statements associated with terrestrial and/or marine development. This was supported by other respondents, including public bodies and the fishing sector. The experience developed by local authorities in dealing with aquaculture developments and the need for linkage with planning for shoreside support and infrastructure were cited as important reasons for respondents holding these views.
Links with wider planning
6.2.15 The tie-in of terrestrial and marine planning systems under the National Marine Plan and Regional Marine Planning was broadly discussed by respondents, including the links between this consultation and the separate Planning Scotland's Seas Consultation.
Roles and responsibilities
6.2.16 A public body recommended that clear guidance be set outlining the roles of each consultee when responding to consultations related to seaweed cultivation. They felt that this could be done either by updating existing aquaculture working arrangement documents or providing separate guidance.
6.2.17 The role of Marine Scotland was also discussed by several respondents, with one considering that they would likely be made a statutory consultee for seaweed cultivation, given their status in relation to marine finfish farm development. However, several questioned the statement in the Consultation Document that the "Scottish Government considers that potential significant environmental impacts are best considered and regulated by Marine Scotland". One felt that the perception that Marine Scotland are best placed to consider and interpret the environmental significance of seaweed farms was a misconception, adding that Scottish planning authorities have significant expertise in these matters. Another cited concerns they held over Marine Scotland's role in finfish farming, stating that while it has powers to regulate the environmental impacts of marine fish farms in relation to sea lice numbers on fish in cages and containment, they were "not aware of Marine Scotland having taken meaningful regulatory action" against "poorly performing sites".
Proximity to shore
6.2.18 The proximity to shore was also discussed in terms of which option and regulatory regime would be appropriate for consideration of seaweed developments. For example, one respondent felt that, as it is likely that these forms of development would generally be located near the shore, the potential for impacts on people and environmental resources on land ( e.g. visual, etc.) may be most appropriately considered under existing planning legislation.
6.2.19 One public body felt that Option 2 would be the best approach, but suggested a slight adaptation based on location. Their view was that authorisation by Local Authorities under the town and country planning regime was the most appropriate for small-, medium and extensive-scale developments in inshore locations or in locations within the seaward extent of planning. Extensive-scale sites would need to be handled differently, largely as these developments would normally be developed further offshore and would also likely involve a different suite or scale of issues to be considered during the determination process. In such instances they supported marine licensing as an appropriate means of authorisation.
6.2.20 One respondent felt that while costs are likely to be significant in using this option, this may also deter any spurious applications.
Option 3: Use both planning and marine licensing regimes but differentiate by scale
6.2.21 Two respondents felt that using both planning and marine licensing regimes and differentiating between them by scale was the most appropriate method for consenting. One felt that, in using both regimes, developments will have been assessed both for their environmental issues and for navigational safety, citing the current process for the aquaculture industry as a precedent. The other respondent added that this option stood the best chance of taking into account the many different seaweed species involved, although noting that there could be potential issues with the definition of these species.
6.2.22 Several respondents considered that Option 3 was "disjointed and confusing". They added that the use of criteria to determine scale, and hence the appropriate licensing regime, would also be complicated and confusing. They clarified that this could be of particular relevance if a development was to be modified, and this could result in a requirement that the modified development be considered under a different consenting regime.
Option 4: Transfer seaweed to planning only if it is part of IMTA development
6.2.23 Option 4 received some support amongst respondents from the seaweed industry, and from the public and academic sectors. Support for including IMTA developments under terrestrial planning was seen by these respondents as a "sound option", but only with the continuation of the existing marine licensing system for wider cultivation activities. One public body felt that whilst supporting this option in relation to IMTA, the characteristics of seaweed cultivation suggested that a single regulatory and consenting regime, such as the current marine licensing regime, would be best placed to address cultivation on a case-by-case basis.
6.2.24 One public body recommended this approach, adding a preference for them to act as consenting authority where the proposal forms part of an IMTA development. Otherwise, they felt that consents should be issued under the Marine (Scotland) Act, adding that this could in the future be delegated to a Regional Marine Partnership.
6.2.25 Several respondents had concerns about the current system, and an industry respondent felt that "historically, terrestrial planning can be problematical" and that this "could be disadvantageous" to marine-related development. Another felt that this option would be beneficial for IMTA, and could also benefit commercial cultivation, although potentially not at a medium or extensive scale.
6.2.26 However, another expressed concerns with this option, stating that this could lead to developments progressing "under the radar" if it was stated that it would be better environmentally to have a seaweed development in the same body of water as other aquaculture developments. They felt that additional research was needed into IMTA.
Combination of options
6.2.27 Several respondents suggested a combination of options. For example, one respondent suggested using a combination of Options 3 and 4, differentiated by scale, location and purpose of cultivation. They supported the regulation of small-scale farms with other aquaculture as they "will almost always be near to the shore". However, they felt that "larger farms need more space, thus will be more likely to be located further offshore", adding that it may be more sensible for them to be regulated under the marine licensing regime. They did, however, add that if any such farms were working within an IMTA site, it may be sensible to consider them under the 1997 Act, but that their consideration could also depend on the scale of the seaweed farm and the IMTA development.
6.2.28 Several respondents did not state a preference for any particular option, including some stating that they were not best placed or did not wish to comment. Some acknowledged the situation, with comments noting the benefits of a "simple consenting regime" and "one that involves the least bureaucracy", particularly in creating opportunities for development of the industry. Another respondent acknowledged the need for a "solution" to the "dilemma" of the current system where different marine activities in the same area are covered by different regulatory regimes, but had no strong views as to what the solution should comprise.
6.2.29 With regard to Policy 1, the question of what "regulatory consideration" is most appropriate was raised by one respondent. They felt that this required consideration and that there is a strong case for the same authority consenting and monitoring both aquaculture and seaweed farms, especially given the proposals for IMTA. Another respondent, from the fishing industry, agreed that involvement of the same consenting body was important. They felt that this should apply regardless of the size of any seaweed development, and added that this would "ensure transparency, clarity, consistency and a streamlined consenting process".
6.2.30 Some respondents also raised other issues related to consenting, mainly aligned with the respective respondents' areas of remit. A recreational sector respondent felt that close coordination between the Local Authority and Marine Scotland was necessary at an early stage, citing an instance where a finfish farm had been approved by a Local Authority, but that the application for a marine licence showed that navigational concerns had not been considered earlier. A fishing industry respondent agreed that consultation was important, and asked that relevant fishing interest groups be consulted in advance regarding any applications that may affect their area due to concerns regarding possible displacement. Scottish Water also requested to be consulted.
6.2.31 A public body noted that the consultation for Planning Scotland's Seas - Draft Circular stated that while Item 76 of Planning for Marine Aquaculture associates fish farming framework plans with terrestrial planning, Item 77 expressed an aspiration that all aquaculture will move to marine planning in the future. One individual respondent stated that there needed to be much fuller consultation about these options, especially outside the finfish farm and seaweed cultivation sectors.
Question 6 summary:
- More than half of the respondents considered that seaweed cultivation should be consented through town and country planning, in line with other forms of aquaculture. There was less support for marine licensing, or combinations of the two. Several felt that none of the options were appropriate.
- There were suggestions that small-scale, inshore developments be consented through planning, and larger (medium and extensive), offshore and deep water development consented through marine licensing.
- There was disagreement about whether planning authorities or Marine Scotland is best placed to provide the necessary expertise to support decision-making.
- The respondents identified a need for a streamlined consenting process; consistency between terrestrial and marine planning systems, and between planning and marine licensing; and capture of cumulative effects. They wanted to see a consenting process that would bring benefits to decision-making, including increased community input and increased transparency and accountability.
- There was a call for guidance on roles and responsibilities of all those involved.
- Several respondents noted that, should consenting be through planning, a marine licence would still be required. A few noted that responsibilities could be transferred to Regional Marine Planning Partnerships when they are established.
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