Shaping the Wales Marine Plan
As independent chair of the Wales Marine Action and Advisory Group for the last 5 yeas I have had a perspective on the development of the Wales Marine Plan. It has been a long time in the making with its origins in the 2009 Marine and Coastal Access The plan aims to set out a framework for the sustainable development of our marine environment, enabling better management of the increasing demands of our seas, providing direction on what we want to achieve for our marine area.
The long process of development means that much of the work pre dates our new legislative framework but the publication of the plan in its final form in the summer of 2019 should fully reflect the requirements of our Well Being of Future Generations and Environment Acts. This publication will represent both the first step in a long term process of marine development, but also the culmination of an extensive period of stakeholder engagement in plan design.
It has required a shift in thinking from mindsets that are based around land use planning where the landscapes are visible and evidence base stronger. It requires us to turn to face our seas, when the vast majority of policy focus looks inward to our land mass, to recognise that our marine environment will have a key role in shaping our future as a nation.
From the outset it has been recognised that for the plan to work for all uses of the sea but must be developed by those users. From my perspective I would want to recognise the commitment of a Welsh Government marine team to the principles of involvement and public participation throughout this process. This is not to say it has been a perfect process, but it has been open, transparent and responsive to stakeholders. There are lessons for Welsh Government in appropriate resourcing, integrated working across departments and building policy from the bottom up. Equally for stakeholders in engaging with the process, when perhaps the default is to focus on public positions more than constructive coproduction.
Of course there have been and remain areas of debate. There were major concerns over the inclusion of Strategic Resource Areas in the plan, which gave the impression that certain types of development would be favoured in specific areas at the cost of other factors or users. Although this was not the intent of the draft plan, the strength of view that this would be a perception that could lead to it being applied in practice has led to the concept being taken out of the plan to give confidence that specific developments would not receive special treatment.
Critically the marine plan will ensure that we move beyond the traditional approach of managing the needs of each user of the marine environment separately. It will require us to continue to build on the efforts of the Wales Marine Action and Advisory Group to bring users together to shape the future of our marine environment, but also to ensure as a coastal country we all turn to face our seas to provide for the wellbeing of future generations