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Marine Spatial Planning - Frequently Asked Questions

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1. What is Marine Spatial Planning?

Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) is a new way of looking at how we use the marine area and planning how best to use it into the future.  MSP will try to balance the different demands for using the sea including the need to protect the marine environment.   It's about planning when and where human activities take place at sea.  It’s about ensuring these activities are as efficient and sustainable as possible. Marine spatial planning involves stakeholders in a transparent way in the planning of marine activities.

MSP may be defined as—

“… a process by which the relevant Member State’s authorities analyse and organise human activities in marine areas to achieve ecological, economic and social objectives” (Directive 2014/89/EU).


 “… a practical way to create and establish a more rational organisation of the use of marine space and the interaction between its uses, to balance demands for development with the need to protect marine ecosystems, and to achieve social and economic objectives in an open and planned way” (UNESCO)

2. Why is MSP being used?

Demand for marine space is high and growing.  A new way of managing different uses is needed.  Marine Spatial Planning is a policy tool that will allow stakeholders and the public to use a joined up planning and management approach.   It will also help manage the use of the seas shared with our neighbours.

3. What will MSP do?

MSP will support the sustainable use and development of Ireland’s oceans and seas.  MSP will consider economic, social and environmental factors and try to find the best balance of existing and new uses in the different marine environments.  At the end of that process the different uses and environments will be digitally mapped and put up online.   This will put in place a framework to enable decisions that are consistent, open, sustainable and evidence based.

4. How will MSP be progressed?

The Government has chosen the Department of Housing Planning and Local Government (DHPLG) as lead Department for MSP.  The Department will manage the marine spatial planning process.  It will prepare any legislation and policy guidance that is needed to carry out MSP.  The Marine Institute (MI) will support the process by providing the necessary technical and scientific advice.

EU Directive 2014/89/EU establishing a framework for marine spatial planning was adopted in July 2014. The European Union (Framework for Maritime Spatial Planning) Regulations 2016 were signed into law on 29th June 2016. The Regulations transpose the directive into Irish law in advance of the 18th September 2016 deadline required by the directive. The regulations establish the necessary legal basis and broad framework for Ireland to implement MSP.

Consultation with stakeholders and the public will be undertaken throughout the MSP life-cycle. This will help identify key themes, uses that can co-exist and/or benefit each other and new approaches to sustainable development.

Marine Spatial Planning will be on-going and evolutionary. Plans will be reviewed at least every ten years.  Reviews will take into account new developments, new policies, changing circumstances and technologies.

Environmental assessments (Strategic Environmental Assessment under the SEA Directive and possibly also a Natura Impact Statement (NIS) for the purposes of the Birds and Habitats Directives) will be undertaken during the development of plans.

5. What are the key timeframes for MSP?

The Directive must be transposed into Irish law by 18 September 2016 and marine spatial plan(s) must be in place by 31 March 2021.

The Directive was transposed by SI 352 of 2016 on 29 June 2016.

6. What areas does MSP cover?

Marine Spatial Planning will apply from the High Water Mark in Ireland’s coastal waters, territorial seas, exclusive economic zone and in designated parts of the continental shelf.  Ireland’s marine area is the largest in Europe totalling over 488,000 square kilometers.

A map of the area is available here   Source: Marine Atlas

7. How will MSP effect marine consenting regimes?

Marine spatial plans, when adopted, will provide the context in which consent decisions for development and activity in the marine area will be considered. Marine spatial plans will not replace or remove existing regulatory regimes or legislative requirements governing the operation of various marine sectoral activities. Rather they will provide an overarching framework for their continued operation. Public bodies involved in consenting for marine development and activities will be obliged to take into account the objectives of plans as part of their decision-making processes. However, decisions on applications for consent should not be delayed in anticipation of plans being adopted for the first time.

8. How will MSP interact with terrestrial planning?

As required by the Directive the competent authority shall take into account land-sea interactions when establishing marine spatial plans.  The procedural arrangements for how MSP and terrestrial planning processes will interact is a matter that will be examined in detail during the implementation process. The need, if any, for further legislative underpinning of those arrangements will be considered as part of this work.

9. How can I take part?

Opportunities for public and stakeholder participation will be built into the process throughout the MSP life cycle.  Details on participation mechanisms will be made available on this website as they arise.

If you wish to be added to our mailing list please forward your contact details to:

10. What will be the lifetime of the plan?

The first marine spatial plan(s) will be established by 31st March 2021. The regulations provide that plans must be reviewed at least every 10 years. This does not preclude the possibility that plans may be reviewed at intervals less than every 10 years or that the terrestrial and marine planning cycle(s) should be aligned insofar as possible. Development of the second marine spatial plan will be initiated during the lifetime of the first plan.

11. Where can I find further information on MSP?