Regional planning – a challenge

Elaine Murray MSP highlights conflict resolution as being a significant challenge facing the proposed regional planning partnerships.

The Marine (Scotland) Act was passed early in 2010 and with its counterpart south of the border fulfils the UK’s EU obligations under the Marine Strategy Framework Directive. It was a significant piece of legislation, providing the framework for marine planning and marine conservation.

The marine environment is an essential resource, providing biodiversity, food supply, renewable energy generation capability and essential to carbon sequestration. It is no exaggeration to state that the health of the seas is essential to the future of the planet and that we have a duty to future generations to ensure that they too enjoy the multiple benefits that the seas provide.

The challenge of implementing the aspirations of the Marine Act will be how the new regional planning partnerships work in practice and whether they do reconcile the many and varied interests which will be represented on those partnerships.

It will be essential that they are not “talking shops” but provide a genuine mechanism to address and resolve the conflicts of interest which are bound to arise when there are so many competing uses for the marine area.

I consider myself very fortunate to live near the banks of the Solway Furth, one of Scotland’s important marine areas, famous for its habitats, wildlife, recreational angling, sailing and shell fish and with the potential for major renewable energy generation.

Concerns about how these uses impact on each other have already arisen, illustrated for example by public reaction to recent proposals for offshore wind generation in Wigtown Bay and how this will impact on the natural environment. These plans were drafted in advance of the implantation of the Bill and it is to be hoped that once the National Marine Plan is in place and the regional marine planning partnerships are operational these conflicts will be addressed earlier in the process.

Conditions in the Solway also illustrate some of the damage already done by decades of human activity.

Scotland’s fishing industry continues to suffer from the effects of trying to rectify the excesses of previous generations. But it’s not just the fish we eat which have been affected. Other species such as rays and sharks, once plentiful in Scottish waters, are now encountered far more rarely.

The work done by organisations such as SSACN, such as the Shark Tagging programme, is essential in providing the scientific evidence needed to enable politicians to respond to the reduction in numbers of declining native species. SSACN has also done sterling work in highlighting the importance of sea angling to the Scottish economy – and in particular to many smaller rural communities in places like the Solway Firth.

The Marine Act gave politicians the opportunity to consider the essential role of our seas, however as we progress to implementation it is the ways in which conflicts are resolved and whether it does help regenerate marine biodiversity which will demonstrate whether its aspirations have been successful.

Elaine Murray has been the Member of the Scottish Parliament for Dumfries Constituency since 1999, and is the Labour Party’s Environment Spokesperson in the Scottish Parliament. She sits on the Rural Affairs and Environment Committee, which scrutinised the Marine Act during its passage through Parliament.

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