To underpin the National Marine Planning Framework (NMPF) (Ireland’s Marine Spatial Plan), a new marine consenting and licensing regime has been established under the Maritime Area Planning Act (MAP) 2021. In 2020, the General Scheme of the Bill was submitted to the Joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage for the purpose of pre-legislative scrutiny. SWAN members Coastwatch and the Irish Wildlife Trust provided evidence to the Joint Committee.
The MAP Act establishes a new regime for development consents by way of a single consent principle. The new regime intends to streamline marine consents by introducing a single system for the entire maritime area – replacing foreshore leases and licenses, and including a single environmental assessment.
The MAP Act includes provisions for; establishing the legal basis for marine spatial planning, placing Marine Planning Policy Statements on a statutory footing, establishing regional planning in the form of Designated Marine Area Plans (DMAPs) and placing marine plans on a statutory footing. The Act also establishes a new consent regime through Maritime Area Consents (essentially the ‘gateway application’ to the new planning system), the licensing of certain activities that do not need planning permission or an EIA and planning permission (based on the granting of a MAC and relevant environmental assessments). The Act also establishes a new Maritime Area Regulatory Authority (MARA).
SWAN and our members highlighted numerous concerns with the Act during its development and scrutiny such as, issues around the expansion of offshore renewables in advance of MPAs, limited public participation under various provisions and access to justice on provisions surrounding the MACs. Unfortunately the Bill was passed with some issues left to be addressed (such as the time-lag between MPAs and offshore renewables and access to justice). To address the disparity in timeframes between the expansion of offshore renewables and the designation of MPAs, it is vital that the Department of Environment, Climate and Communities undertakes robust sensitivity mapping. This sensitivity mapping (being carried out as part of the second offshore renewable energy development plan) should be developed in a collaborative and holistic manner and ensure that areas which may be required in the future MPA network are not negatively impacted by developments.