Marine Spatial Planning

There are a multitude of human activities occurring in our marine waters and they are continually expanding and diversifying. Competition for space and increased pressure on the environment are therefore growing concerns. The Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO defines Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) as “a public process of analysing and allocating the spatial and temporal distribution of human activities in marine areas to achieve ecological, economic, and social objectives that are usually specified through a political process”.

Effective MSP can bring about many benefits such as reducing conflict between sectors, encouraging investment, improving cross-border cooperation, and most importantly, protecting and restoring the environment. Under the EU’s Marine Spatial Planning Directive, Ireland implemented its first Marine Spatial Plan in April 2021. 

Ireland’s first marine spatial plan, the “National Marine Planning Framework” (NMPF) was published in April 2021 following a period of public consultation. The aim of the NMPF was to move from the developer-led approach of old, to a strategic, plan-led management of marine activities with the ecosystem as an overarching consideration. 

In 2020 SWAN made a submission to the draft National Marine Planning Framework. In its submission, SWAN expressed concerns that the draft NMPF did not fully satisfy the requirements of the Maritime Spatial Planning Directive by failing to set out overarching strategic policies or to include temporal aspects of existing and future activities. SWAN also critiqued that the NMPF was quite compartmentalised in its consideration of different activities and as such it was very difficult to see the intersection and interplay of activities. Unfortunately, many of the issues raised in SWAN’s submission remain in the final plan. 

The issues raised by SWAN and our members were further compounded by provisions in the Maritime Area Planning Act 2021 (MAP Act). Under the MAP Act, the NMPF can be reviewed in a timeframe of no greater than six years; however, given that issues remain, SWAN is advocating for an earlier interim review of the plan to address the remaining gaps and issues.