Through its very nature, the marine environment is one that is challenging to develop projects within. Design and assessment must contend not only with what is on the seabed, but also with the sea itself. In this environment, site boundaries are hard to define and receptors have a habit of paying little attention to national or regional boundaries. At the coast, the complexities of the terrestrial planning system overlap with offshore consenting regimes. Projects developed here have both ‘wet’ and ‘dry’ elements to them.
Looking out to sea it is tempting to think of it as a blank, blue expanse. Looks can be deceiving. Below the surface the marine environment is every bit as complex and ‘busy’ as its terrestrial counterpart. Offshore wind farms contend for space with aggregates extraction and submarine cables. Closer to shore fish farms, sea defences and other coastal development vie for space. This infrastructure co-locates (or doesn’t) with protected habitats, designated areas, disposal sites and wrecks. Among and through it all pass vessels of all sizes and a rich and diverse tapestry of marine life, from target fish species to marine mammals and everything in-between.
How do we, as members of the planning and impact assessment community, make sense of all this complexity within EIA and its related consenting and assessment processes? The contributions included in this journal act as an entry point into the diverse and exciting world of marine impact assessment.
The first trio of articles frame the challenge. Ed Walker kicks us off with an overview of the diversity of marine industries, framing the spatial planning challenge within the history of marine uses and their linkages with cultural identity. Ed uses navigational risk assessment to further explore this theme. Building on this introduction, Miriam Parish’s article focuses on the complexities of consenting at the water’s edge, the various permissions coastal development requires, and the assessments needed in order to gain consent. We then delve into the EIA Quality Mark article archive with Jamie Oaten who discusses how, in aiming to leave the environment in a better state following development than before, marine net gain can complement EIA processes with regard to avoiding environmental deterioration.
The second trio of articles give sector-based reflections on marine EIA and consenting. Laura Gatdula explores the offshore wind consenting landscape in the UK and Ireland and discusses how the UK and Irish Governments can reach their targets for offshore wind this decade. Caroline Purcell reflects on decommissioning offshore wind structures – an emerging issue within marine EIA – and uses lessons learned from the oil and gas sector to explore challenges and opportunities for this section. Moving away from offshore wind, Ben Johnson brings us closer to shore with his reflections on EIA processes related to Scottish salmon farming. These articles allow reflection on the similarities and differences inherent in operating the EIA process across sectors.
Applying a different lens, the next trio of articles relate to receptor-specific challenges. Miriam Parish and Georgina Roberts explain what Sabellaria reef is and why it is important. They further explore the implications of what happens if you find it during the assessment of a marine development project. Graeme Cook’s EIA Quality Mark article, in which he discusses apportioning impacts upon Larus gulls, uses the Caithness wind farm as a case study for reflection. Likewise, Gayle Boyle’s article, also from the EIA Quality Mark archive, explores how EIA methods can be utilised to minimise marine licence conditions and restrictions in relation to spawning fish.
EIA does not end at the consent stage. Reminding us of this, Fraser Malcolm’s EIA Quality Mark article discusses post-consent compliance in Scotland. This article, like Gayle’s, stresses the importance of including post-consent considerations within EIA processes.
The articles in this edition respond to the challenge of assessing development within this fluid marine space. Our final article introduces cross-jurisdictional complexity. In her article, Laura Gatdula provides her thoughts on applying for consents for cross-jurisdictional marine projects. In this article the experience gained through working on a project straddling three maritime jurisdictions provides insight into another challenging area for marine EIA.
At first glance it may appear that the deep waters of marine EIA are treacherous to navigate. But as our contributors make clear, this is an area in which professionals are gaining an ever broader and deeper understanding of what is needed to manage and assess the development of our seas.
Download a copy of the Outlook Journal here.
Please note: the views expressed in this blog are those of the individual contributing member, and are not necessarily representative of the views of IEMA or any professional institutions with which IEMA is associated.
Posted on 7th July 2021
Written by Dr Kathryn Collins
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