New opportunities for maritime spatial planning and Blue Growth

Stornoway, Western Isles: new EU concern for Blue Growth could open opportuntiies for coastal communities.

The concept of maritime spatial planning has been given a significant boost by a couple of recent actions in the European Union. As Maria Damanaki, EU Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, has commented, “Governments are waking up to the fact that we have just about reached the limit of what can be squeezed from the 29% of the planet that is land. Therefore, it becomes clear that we need to look even more to the sea.” Now the EU is proposing a Directive that would require Member States to develop coastal management strategies that coordinate planning for activities in coastal zones across the different policy areas. This comes just as a pioneering report on Europe’s seas has been published.

Connecting land and sea


A team led by planners at the University of Liverpool have produced “European Seas and Territorial Development: Opportunities and Risks”.  It is part of the ESPON research programme, in which I also do some work and for which the RTPI is the UK Contact Point.
The report notes that for a long time there was a disconnection between the way that land and marine environments were viewed. While the planning of the use of land is long established, the idea that the seas also need planning is relatively new. It was only in 2002 that the EU parliament and Council issued a recommendation in favour of Integrated Coastal Zone Management.

However, there is now growing recognition of the significant inter-linkages between marine and terrestrial areas, and the opportunities and risks presented by the marine environment. More particularly, the report points out that there is a realisation that the interactions between land and sea extend beyond the coastal zone. However, responses have been rather fragmented.

The authors comment “The intensity, nature and extent of sea use and these interactions with the land have created a complex web of governance arrangements at a variety of different scales (global, regional seas, European, bilateral and transnational, national, regional and local as well as sectoral depending on particular interests that want to use sea space).”

This points to the need for maritime spatial planning as a way of allocating space amongst potentially conflicting users, and regulating and managing seas in the cause of sustainable development.

Jobs, Ships, Cables and Energy


Some coastal settlements depend heavily on the sea for jobs. This is true in Iceland, Norway, Estonia and Latvia, the UK, parts of northern Spain, northern and central Italy, southern Portugal, and many European islands including the Canaries. There are also highly urbanised regions where there are a lot of jobs in major ports, such as Antwerp, Hamburg and Rotterdam.
Some seas are rather congested. The Southern North Sea and Channel are the major focus for marine transport and cables in Europe, with other hotspots around major ports in the Mediterranean, in the Baltic around the Danish Straights and Gulf of Finland and around the Canaries.

Sub-sea oil is important, not just in the North Sea. Growth in fossil fuel exploration is envisaged in the Arctic and there have been hydro-carbon discoveries off Cyprus and Greece. In the Black Sea there are production fields for offshore oil and (mainly) gas off the Turkish coast, at Galata near the Bulgarian coast and the Ana and Doina fields off Romania.

Renewable energy in various forms is envisaged in many areas most notably the Atlantic and North Sea where wind and wave and tidal power potential is greatest. The southern North Sea has Europe’s main concentration of offshore wind farms. In the longer term there is the possibility of carbon capture and storage in exhausted oil and gas fields in the North Sea and the Baltic.

Add in fisheries, aquaculture and environmental risks and it is easy to see why maritime issues are rising up the policy agenda, at least in the EU.

A new move

In March the EU announced a new draft Directive. It will require Member States to map the range of maritime activities that I have sketched above. They will have to produce maritime spatial plans, and develop coastal management strategies that will coordinate measures across the different policy areas that apply to activities in coastal zones. “Respecting the minimum requirements proposed by the Directive, Member States will need to ensure that their maritime planning and coastal management supports sustainable growth, while involving relevant stakeholders and cooperating with neighbouring states.”

Planning of land brings economic benefits through providing certainty to investors. Maritime spatial planning is expected to have similar benefits. The Directive is proposing a one-stop shop principle, so that the process of gaining approval for maritime developments such as fish farms or wind farms can be streamlined.

Blue Growth

The agenda is being driven by the EU Directorate responsible for Maritime Affairs. It is part of the promotion of Blue Growth. Blue Growth is a long-term strategy that embraces the economic. social and environmental aspects of Europe’s seas. It focuses on activities as diverse as short-sea shipping, coastal tourism, offshore wind energy, desalination and use of marine resources in the pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries.

Opportunities in the new European Structural and Investment Funds (2014-2020)

The new round of EU funding that begins next year seeks better integration between what were previously separate funds covering regional development, rural development, fisheries and the social fund. There would seem to be real opportunities for coastal communities to develop proposals for investments that seek to deliver on the Blue Growth agenda and “push out the boat “ (sorry, I couldn’t resist that one) on maritime spatial planning.