Northern Ireland Marine Bill
The Northern Ireland Marine Bill (as currently drafted) sets out a new framework for Northern Ireland’s seas based on: a system of marine planning that will balance conservation, energy and resource needs; improved management for marine nature conservation and the streamlining of marine licensing for some electricity projects.
The Bill will apply to the territorial sea and the seabed adjacent to Northern Ireland (out to 12 nautical miles). This is the Northern Ireland ‘inshore region’.
The draft Bill can be accessed here here (224KB)
The draft Explanatory and Financial Memorandum can be accessed here (96KB)
The draft Final Regulatory Impact Accessment can be found here (140KB)
Note: These documents may change as a result of any amendments during the Assembly process.
You can track the progress of the Bill through the Assembly here: www.niassembly.gov.uk/Assembly-Business/Legislation/Primary-Legislation-Current-Bills/Marine-Bill/
The main provisions of the Bill are outlined below.
Under the Bill, the Department of the Environment may prepare a marine plan for all or part of the inshore region. A marine plan will bring together information and policies on the multiple uses of the marine area, together with spatial and temporal data (e.g. seasonal changes) for the water column and the seabed, using maps where appropriate. As a strategic tool, it will allow decisions to be made about the best use of the marine area, in order to maximise compatibility of activities and achieve sustainable development.
The inshore region overlaps with the area covered by terrestrial planning, which extends to the low water mark; therefore the Department must take all reasonable steps to ensure compatibility between a marine plan and any related terrestrial development plan.
The Bill details the procedure by which the Department must prepare, consult on and publish a marine plan. This procedure will require the publication of a Statement of Public Participation, which will set out how interested parties will be involved in the planning process. The Department must consult with other Departments with marine functions (DARD, DCAL, DETI and DRD), as the marine plan will state their policies in connection with the sustainable development of the marine area. Where a marine plan applies to retained functions (e.g. those which are carried out or authorised by a UK department), the Secretary of State must approve the marine plan before it can be adopted.
Marine Nature Conservation
The Bill allows the Department to designate areas as marine conservation zones (MCZ), with the agreement of the Secretary of State. Designation may be carried out for certain circumstances (e.g. conserving species of marine flora and fauna), taking fully into account any economic or social consequences of designation. Islands may be within an MCZ, and adjacent areas of the seashore may also be included if certain conditions apply.
The Bill allows the Department to make byelaws to protect MCZ, through a procedure of publication to bring them to the attention of persons likely to be affected and confirmation by the Secretary of State.
The Bill provides that it is an offence to contravene a byelaw, which could result in a fine upon conviction, or the imposition of a fixed monetary penalty. The procedure for the use of fixed monetary penalties is set out in the Bill, including the process for notification of a fixed penalty, discharge of liability and grounds for appeal.
It is also an offence to carry out a prohibited act in relation to an MCZ (e.g. intentionally or recklessly destroying or damaging a habitat which is a protected feature of an MCZ).
Part 4 of the UK Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 introduced a new system of marine licensing which extended to Northern Ireland.
The UK Act allowed for the use of ‘special procedures’ in respect of certain electricity works in parts of the UK. The draft Bill contains a provision to amend the UK Act to provide for the application of equivalent special procedures for applications relating to certain electricity works in the Northern Ireland inshore region.
These special procedures will apply in situations where both a marine licence (from DOE) and a generating consent (from DETI) are required, and will allow for parallel consideration of applications for both types of consent.