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Guest blog: Do we need a fairer approach to marine spatial planning?

03 June 2016 Author: Wesley Flannery and Geraint Ellis

MSP

In this guest blog, Wesley Flannery and Geraint Ellis from Queen’s University Belfast call for a more radical approach to marine spatial planning.

Regulating marine space has become increasingly necessary due to the growing industrialisation of the seas and oceans (through fishing, energy use and other developments) and the need to protect fragile or degraded ecosystems. Increasing demand for marine space and the rise of industries fixed in space, such as wind farms and aquaculture, is resulting in competition amongst various users. Environmental assessments suggest that marine biodiversity is decreasing, through, for example, the transformation of food chains and growing marine pollution.

Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) has rapidly become a key method for addressing conflicts between marine space users and managing cumulative impacts on the marine environment. Marine governance has opened up opportunities for the planning community to engage with new practices and apply their skills to the vast marine assets that surround the UK, which was one of the first countries to propose spatial planning in the marine environment in 2002.

[T]here has to be room for a “radical” MSP that encourages alternative approaches that go beyond economic considerations and intervenes to secure more democratic decision-making and a fairer distribution of the benefits derived from the marine environment.

However, there are relatively few critical evaluations of MSP in the academic or practice literature. Current research is dominated by the natural science and economic disciplines, and largely consists of technical assessments or descriptive case studies. While these studies contribute to our knowledge of how to "do" MSP, we argue in our lead paper in a recent 'Interface' in Planning Theory and Practice (freely available here), that there is an urgent need to critically evaluate MSP so as to highlight any negative or unfair impacts that may arise from its adoption. There is, therefore, a need for greater engagement with MSP from the planning community, including practitioners and academics.

The rapid uptake of MSP is based on the fact that it seems to provide a clear, ordered, rational approach to marine management. However, MSP has given little attention to issues of power and fairness (including some stakeholders bending MSP process to the own ends or ensuring that the status quo persisted), as we show in a number of case studies.

Although managing resources effectively may have been the main motivation for MSP, we argue that there has to be room for a “radical” MSP that encourages alternative approaches that go beyond economic considerations and intervenes to secure more democratic decision-making and a fairer distribution of the benefits derived from the marine environment. In terms of involving the planning community, we ask whether advocacy planning or more grassroots participatory methods should have a place in making MSP more equitable.

The Interface contains a number of invited responses to our lead paper. Respondents include academics, practitioners and marine industry representatives. There is general agreement that current MSP practices are far from perfect, and some respondents agree with our core arguments; however a number of respondents disagree with the call for a more radical approach and suggest we should wait to see what types of practice emerge from the recently enacted EU Directive establishing a framework for maritime spatial planning.

We feel strongly that the lack of a progressive vision and stronger norms for how MSP can deliver social benefits could ultimately be its downfall. Drawing on some examples of how specific interests have come to dominate MSP process (including in MSP initiatives with initial high participation levels), we argue that to ignore how such a potentially powerful regulatory regime relates to issues of power and wealth is to condone such outcomes.

It is not acceptable to wait to see if emerging MSP practices have unintended negative consequences on vulnerable groups; an effective MSP process must find a way to accommodate plurality of perspectives and confront its conflicts. Preserving the sea has to be influenced by a definition of planning activity as not just “managing” resources but actively using development to secure a better world.

Guest blogs do not necessarily represent the views of the RTPI.

Wesley Flannery and Geraint Ellis

Wesley Flannery and Geraint Ellis

Wesley Flannery is a Lecturer in the School of Planning, Architecture and Civil Engineering Queen’s University, Belfast. His key research interests are in marine spatial planning, integrated coastal zone planning and stakeholder participation in environmental decision-making. He has conducted research on behalf of the Marine Institute of Ireland and the OSPAR Commission, the Irish government and local-level environmental NGOs. He is an editor at the ICES Journal of Marine Science. Twitter: @WesleyFlannery Geraint Ellis is Chair of Environmental Planning and Director of Research in the School of Planning, Architecture and Civil Engineering at Queen’s University, Belfast. His key research interests are in planning and sustainability with a particular emphasis on renewable energy, planning governance and healthy urban planning and he has published widely on each of these topics. He is also co-editor of the Journal of Environmental Policy and Planning. His full profile is at: http://bit.ly/ZYkPNM. Twitter: @gellis23