The Maritime Area Planning Bill 2021 has today, December 17th 2021, passed through all stages of the Oireachtas. This Bill represents the biggest reform of marine governance since the foundation of the State, with a legal and administrative framework to support a marine environment that Ireland can use, enjoy and benefit from socially, environmentally and economically.
The Bill establishes in law a new planning regime for the maritime area and will be a key enabler of decarbonisation of Ireland’s energy sources and the development of offshore energy. It will replace existing State and development consent regimes and streamline arrangements on the basis of a single consent principle, i.e. one State consent (Maritime Area Consent) to enable occupation of the Maritime Area and one development consent (planning permission), with a single environmental assessment.
The Bill is also a key component of the National Marine Planning Framework (NMPF), Ireland’s first national framework for managing marine activities, launched earlier this summer. The framework, which will apply to a maritime area of approximately 495,000km², outlines a vision for how we want to use, protect and enjoy our seas in the years up to 2040. The Framework is a parallel document to the National Planning Framework, which guides terrestrial planning and development.
In response to the Bill’s passage through the Oireachtas, Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Darragh O’Brien TD, said:
“My Department is leading an extensive marine management reform programme, the likes of which the State has never seen. The Maritime Area Planning Bill represents a giant leap forward towards meeting our ambitious climate action goals and targets and is a result of many of years of work in my Department to modernise our marine planning system. It will also play a significant role in the Government’s response to climate change and to reaching the renewable energy goals set forth in the Climate Action Plan.”
Minister of State for Planning and Local Government, Peter Burke TD, who has specific responsibility for marine planning, said:
“This Bill gives legal underpinning to an entirely new marine planning system, which balances our huge offshore wind energy potential with the need to protect our marine environment. It will also introduce a new independent agency, MARA, which will be based in Wexford and focused solely on the regulation of our maritime area.
While this Bill has been led by my Department, there has been a collective effort to reach this stage and we have worked very closely with colleagues in the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications, the Department of the Taoiseach and the wider Marine Legislation Steering Group, who I would like to thank for their commitment to this Bill. In particular, I want to single out my officials who have drafted and refined this complex and highly technical legislation over an extended period and who always made themselves available to answer questions from the media, the public and the wider political system. Their passion and commitment to best practice marine planning has impressed me greatly since I was appointed to the Department in July 2020”.
Minister of State for Heritage and Electoral Reform Malcolm Noonan TD commented,
“The passage of this Bill is a critical and hugely welcome development in our efforts to mitigate climate change by decarbonising our energy sources through the development of offshore renewable energy. Not only that, but this Bill will embed robust environmental assessments in every part of the planning decision. With the development of our MPA legislation next year, we’re working towards a strong, interconnected, coherent network of protected areas to ensure the sustainable use of our marine environment.”