Marine Bill to bring planning to seas

Proposals to protect Britain's seas and marine life while safeguarding the marine industries were set out in the long-awaited Marine Bill White Paper, published on Thursday.

The document includes plans to create the UK’s first ever marine planning system, which will provide a framework for spatially distributing oil and gas exploration, marine renewables, carbon storage, inshore fisheries and shipping, and proposes up to eight new Special Areas of Conservation.

Marine environmental policy would be overseen by a new Marine Managent Organisation.

In a move directly relevant to the wave and offshore wind power industries, the white paper promises to deliver the “streamlined, transparent and consistent” system for licensing marine developments that the industries have been campaigning for.

Launching the bill at London’s Institution of Mechanical Engineers, environment secretary David Miliband, said:”Protecting our seas is one of the biggest environmental challenges after climate change and the two are closely linked.

“This White Paper gives people the chance to help the Government do what is needed to effectively balance all of our marine needs and demands, and to achieve our vision for a clean, healthy, safe, productive, and biologically diverse marine environment.

The bill is rendered all the more essential by climate change, which will strongly affect marine biodiversity, water pollution as well as the commercial productivity of Britain’s seas, he added.

Ministers took pains to emphasise that the bill takes the interests of the fishing industry into account and aims to safeguard the commercial productivity of the seas.

Minister for fisheries Ben Bradshaw said: “Through this consultation, we want to ensure that the Marine Bill provides us with the tools to effectively manage activities in the marine area. We must deliver the right balance between protection of the environment and social and economic needs.”

The new marine planning system “will enable us to take a strategic approach to marine activities throughout our waters. It will benefit all those who use our seas and will be key to securing the maximum sustainable benefits from our marine resources, whilst ensuring we can provide proper protection for them.

He also emphasises that the fisheries would actually benefit from marine protection areas as they will prevent the depletion of fish stocks in the longer term.

Environmental organisations have been campaigning for a marine bill for years and welcomed the proposals. “There is a lot in the Marine Bill White Paper that we are excited about. It is a vital tool for restoring our seas to good health,” said the WWF’s Paul King.

“It is now crucial that the government introduces legislation in the 2007 Queen’s Speech if it is to meet its national and international targets on biodiversity and climate change.”

Sourcing 10% of the UK’s electricity from renewables, a target that the Government is commited to, would be difficult without the relief for the marine renewables industry that the Marine Bill will provide, he said.

Goska Romanowicz

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