Marine Scotland’s document, Scottish Marine Regions: defining their boundaries, is in its consultation phase, with the closure date for responses on 18th February 2011.
Its core concern is to arrive at the most effective planning management for Scotland’s marine area, overseeing the balance between the use and protection of resources towards ensuring sustainable economic growth. The planning function must also identify and exclude anything capable of ravaging the marine area and bequeathing nothing – or problems – to future generations.
Matters embraced by the marine plan to come – whatever way it is organised and implemented – include the development of marine based renewable energies; aquaculture; conservation; recreation and tourism; ports, harbours and shipping.
The consultation document centrally deals with regionalised management – what would the regions be and where would their boundaries be drawn?
The elephants in the room
There are two elephants in the room; both have mahouts external to Scotland and together they make any attempt at Scottish marine planning immediately redundant.
The elephants are:
- The Crown Estate Commissioners
The planning situation proposed is effectively akin to sitting in a bunker below London during the blitz, considering the development of urban green spaces – while up above the bombers are reshaping the territory and the looters are clearing the valuables, as the talking in the bunker meanders endlessly on, deaf and blind to the real action.
The Crown Estate Commissioners
These public servants manage, in the public interest, the public asset that is the rights to the Scottish sea bed held in a portfolio of rights and assets historically called ‘The Crown Estate’.
With devolution, these self-important public servants scampered back to Westminster and made a single portfolio of the UK-wide rights and assets, removing the separate accounting that had applied to the rights and assets held in Scotland.
In offshore and marine renewable energies, the Crown Estate Commissioners have been independently issuing exclusivity agreements (exploration licences) to would-be developers for areas of the Scottish sea bed.
As things stand, they can carry on doing the same.
Already their activities have left the isle of Tiree facing being ringed by no fewer than three offshore wind farms and a wave farm. The first of these – the Argyll Array wind farm (aka the Tiree Array) – exclusively issued to Scottish Power Renewables, is for a wind farm over over four and a half times the size of the 30 square mile island and lying to its west and south west.
This monster starts at only 3 miles offshore and will cover 139 square miles of sea with up to 500 turbines.
This includes the sea area where the Skerryvore lighthouse, recognised as the world’s most beautiful, stands 48 metres high . It is due to be circled by tiers of turbines between 180 and 200 metres high – three to four times higher than itself.
The Mull of Kintyre faces being ringed to the south and south west by a wave farm and an ‘offshore’ (?) wind farm – the Kintyre Array – that also peppers the main sailing route up the west coast of Scotland. These are the Argyll waters celebrated as the best sailing grounds in Europe.
This wind farm is so close inshore that it dominates an area of outstanding natural beauty – a site of special scientific interest (SSSI), with two individually distinctive world class golf courses and a beach fast becoming a specialist west coast surfing venue.
But the Crown Estate Commissioners have issued and profited from their exclusivity agreements.
At a public meeting last week, part of the consultation process, we asked what the relation of the Crown Estate Commissioners would be to the planning process for the Scottish marine area and the answer was a resigned shrug and a ‘Well, that’s the question’.
So what is the point of spending time and a great deal of money going through the hoops of creating and consulting on a plan to manage planning that has been and can be – at any time – subverted by an external body whose profits go straight out of Scotland and into the UK exchequer?
Answer: none. First get the horse between the traces and towing the cart.
The most immediate issue facing marine planning is anything and everything to do with fisheries. This carries issues that are live now – not later. They need decisions and action now – not later. And this is not going to happen.
There are matters of conservation of stocks, no take zones, quotas, damage to the sea bed inflicted by foreign trawlers – and this damage literally impacts upon the living and the non-living elements on the sea floor.
And the authority structures here reach to the outer concentric ring of the European Commission.
So again, the planning controls available to manage the Scottish marine area, regionalised or not, are centrally compromised from the outset. All they can effectively do is fiddle at the edges while the Crown Estate Commissioners flog the bed from under them and others finish off what is left of our fish stocks.
Regionalisation or not – and the matter of boundaries
All of that apart – and there’s little left when those controls are removed – and looking at the basic thesis of this document, is the potential regionalisation of the Scottish marine area a straightforward enough matter?
Answer: It is anything but straightforward.
The boundary issue involves both contiguity with neighbouring regions – the precise handover lines; and the outwards extent of the areas – to three, six or twelve miles.
Issues on regionalisation include, positively, the immediate availability of depth of local knowledge versus, negatively, the equally available parochialism, with all the usual wheelings and dealings that discredit local government of all kinds.
Regionalised planning of marine areas also raises the prospect of another ‘postcode lottery’ variation on resource management.
The consultation document skews the issue from the outset. It does not put the case for centralisation; nor does it offer the option of centralisation with robust regional representation.
The decision to go for a regionalised structure has already, more than implicitly - been taken. In his foreword to the document, Richard Lochhead, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affair and the Environment, closes by saying: ‘This consultation is about creating these Scottish Marine Regions’.
However, in the uncomfortable ambiguity that is a feature common to all such sham consultations, the document asks: ‘Do we wish to create Scottish Marine Regions?’
This goes on to offer a cursory Yes/No response to the question: ‘Do you believe that Scottish Marine Regions should be created for the purposes of regional marine planning?’
There are two immediate problems here.
- As with the generality of the questions this document sets for consultation, the question is intellectually incompetent in the way it is framed and consequently ‘leads’ the responder.’Do you believe…’ discourages the development of informed opinion, reinforced by asking this question upfront very early in the document. Then ‘…for the purposes of regional marine planning’ begs the main question. This question might have been positioned at the end of the document and asked: ‘Have you come to the conclusion that Scottish Marine Regions should be created for the purposes of Scottish marine planning?’ Yes/No.
- The document, while asking ‘Do we wish to create Scottish Marine Regions?’, offers no alternatives. Just saying ‘No’ leads nowhere. Any competent consultation document would visit or revisit the options in asking such a question. The operationally obvious option would be centralised marine planning with robust regional representation carrying a tightly framed strategic veto capability. This has several very substantial benefits. It avoids significant additional costs – by not swelling an already disproportionate public sector through duplicating more bureacracies across the regions. It educates, through universal access to region specific concerns, conditions and knowledge. It protects regional vulnerabilities and strengths through a veto system.
The multiplicity of ‘stakeholders’
A multiplicity of stakeholders, as here, means endless turf wars.
The document is clearly not concerned with whether or not we choose to have Scottish Marine Regions (because it assumes we will) but with how we designate those regions.
Its concerns therefore focus on the criteria for deciding what the regions should be and what marine areas they should cover.
Here comes the big problem.
There are any number of existing marine boundaries in Scottish waters, formed for a wide variety of reasons by an equally wide variety of statutory bodies, quangos and special interest groups.
The bulk of the document is taken up with describing these existing sets of boundaries.
When one looks at these, one feels the weight of random, overlapping, disconnected layers of bureaucracies sap the vital spirit.
It is clear that no one has ever attempted to rationalise anything in this field (as with so many) – nor has any intention of doing so.
Every special interest group has drawn its own boundaries. None of them match. It is a nightmare of Orwellian and Kafkaesque proportions.
And now Marine Scotland effectively proposes to add another.
This has to be the ultimate argument for centralised marine planning. We need one body – and the one with the authority – to deal with all the (God-help-us) ‘stakeholders’ – whose singular manifest ability is holding on to their stakes.
Imagine how paralysed a regional body would be, operating with little more than peripheral marine planning powers and trying to deal with each of the multifarious ‘stakeholders’ involved. No action could ever be taken. But there would be never-ending reports and consultations on matter arising from their failure to agree or trying to adjudicate between their conflicting concerns. And think what it would all cost.
- shipping forecast areas;
- fisheries management areas – known as ICES, clusters of rectangles (a natural feature?) established by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea for recording fisheries statistics;
- OSPAR regions – carved out for cooperative protection of the marine environment of the NE Atlantic by governments concerned with the coasts and catchment areas of western Europe;
- geographical divisions based on the variable living and non-living seabed characteristics and identified by the Marine Nature Conservation Review;
- UKMMAS regions – areas identified for periodic reviews of the status of the UK’s marine environment by the UK Marine Monitoring and Assessment Strategy (UKMMAS);
- areas designated under the Water Framework Directive – these are largely based on the major river basins, are concerned with issues of water purity and pollution and extend to 3 nautical miles. This then sees River Basin Management Plans (RBMP) operating on signficant coastal and marine areas;
- IFGs – Inshore fisheries groups – industry -led, non-statutory groups developing management plans for specific inshore fishery areas. These give local fishing interests and relevant local operators a voice in the management of local fisheries and, beyond that in wider marine developments. These areas are designated on an axis of geography and species habitats.
- LCPs and RPAs (are you still alive?) – these are, respectively, Local Coastal Partnerships and Regional Policy Areas – these are focused on encouraging debate and on developing regional policy statements. Basically they centre on the Firths, plus some necessary gap filling and a proposed extension to cover the small matters of the northern and west coast islands and mainland coastlines.
Attempts to reconcile stakeholders interests
As in the way of the public sector hydra, this has involved the creation of another body and the commissioning of more paperwork.
The Scottish Coastal Forum was formed in 1996 to foster national debate on coastal issues.
In 2009, Marine Scotland commissioned the Scottish Coastal Forum to establish external ‘stakeholders’ views on how Scottish Marine Region boundaries could be defined.
The Scottish Marine Regions: defining their boundaries document glosses over the issue of boundaries and focuses on the agreement between stakeholders that there should be 5-10 Scottish Marine Regions with 12 as an absolute maximum – without citing anything other than bland generalities to support this conclusion. They clearly got nowhere on the issue they were set to clarify – how the boundaries of such regions could be defined.
Landward and seaward boundaries
The Mean High Water Spring tide mark is laid down by the Marine (Scotland) Act as the landward boundary of any marine plan.
The issue under consultation is then whether the seaward boundary should go out to 3, 6 or 12 nautical miles.
Responses to this are effectively based on temperamental difference. There are those who prefer the ‘one bit at a time’ approach where others prefer to start as you mean to go on. We’re with the latter – set the right boundaries from the off and progressively work to police them effectively.
The weaknesses of the document
Its strengths are in the straightforward area of laying down basic, if selective, information. But it communicates no strategic vision. It offers no options. Its consultation process – as well as its framing of the questions to be answered – is unsound and ‘managed’.
There is nothing like enough time at the ‘breakout’ sessions in the public meetings – and the purpose of these is singly to lead participants through ticking the boxes in the consultation questions. From our own objective witness, critical responses were squeezed into very different renderings in order to get them as close as possible to ticking the clearly required responses. In the group we were part of, this was pretty stoutly resisted - but to what effect?
How will Scotland benefit from the development of offshore and marine renewable energies when it is the Crown Estate Commissioners who are being left to control what counts as the planning for where and what kind of operation is licensed for what area?
And with fisheries controlled elsewhere – what’s left?
These two areas of operation – each beyond the immediate control of the Scottish government and of the UK government – also impact on a broad spectrum of environmental concerns in the marine area.
Look at Tiree and Kintyre, for example.
No one knows what the environmental impact will be with wind farms, all on sea bed platforms and wave farms anchored on it.
How much destruction will be caused during installation – involving extensive additional anchoring from support and construction vessels? And beyond this there will be very extensive cable laying to be done to get the power ashore and to link it to the national grid.
What will all this disturbance do to the marine species that normally move through and live on these waters?
What will be the total submarine impact of the sheer number of obstructions that will impede the flow of the sea?
Will we see orcas, seals and basking sharks learning to swim slaloms around lines of submarine turbine platforms and anchor cables? Or will this be their equivalent of life being too short to stuff a mushroom and see them finding somewhere else to go?
What will be the impact on fishing grounds?
And with no real Scottish controls over fisheries, species may be starved of their natural food sources in Scottish waters, seeing some, like the already threatened common seal, become extinct and others change their traditional routes.
The presence of these two major factors, invisible in the Marine Scotland document, make the central purpose of this consultation pointless.
It would certainly be obscene, in this situation, to establish an expensive system of regional marine area authorities, with duplicated bureacracies.
These would have no control over the two key issues – renewables development and fisheries. They would spend their time reconciling the conflicting interests of their multiplicity of ‘stakeholders’ with their wildly varying territories and overlapping boundaries.
Everything points to the greater sense of a centralised national authority with the robust regional representation and an intelligent veto system we have described.
And at best, that can only tweak the periphery until government/s decide to change some critical parameters. The position of the Crown Estate Commissioners has to be the place to start.
We have published an article on the report commissioned on this issue by six Scottish local authorities (one of which was Argyll and Bute) and which reported in 2007.
This concluded that it is within the devolved powers of the Scottish Government unilaterally to change the ownership of the Scottish rights and assets held in the portfolio known as The Crown Estate.
The current Scottish Government – a Scottish National Party administration – has been aware of this report’s conclusions since it came to power in 2007. The Scottish Government has also previously used the same powers to change the situation around feudal tenures. But it has not taken the initiative said to be within its own powers to change the ownerships of the Scottish rights and assets managed by the Crown Estate Commissioners.
Why not? If the 2007 report is legally wrong in its conclusions, the Scottish Government should be making that clear as the reason why it has been unable to act. Conversely, if the report is right in its analysis of the legalities, the Scottish Government should be upfront about why it has preferred to try to get the Westminster Government to act, using reserve powers, and to achieve something rather less that it is supposed to be able to do for itself.
We have asked these questions and have met with waffle and silence. We now have a Freedom of Information request with the Scottish government designed to discover what the internal issues on this matter have been.
Unless and until the position of the Crown Estate Commissioners is resolved, there is absolutely no point in wasting any more time and money on this particular adventure.
Whatever you think on any of the matters involved, we suggest that you participate in the consultation – and you have only until 18th February to do so.
Responses can be made:
- by email to: email@example.com
- online here.