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Julie James MS, Minister for Climate Change

First published:
1 March 2023
Last updated:

The first Welsh National Marine Plan established an entirely new planning system, setting for the first time a strategic planning policy framework for our seas. I would like to update the Senedd on the plan, and how in continuing its implementation we can protect the incredible biological diversity in our seas whilst supporting thriving coastal communities and industries. 

Despite the turbulence of recent times, it is clear from reviewing the plan’s first three years of operation that public authorities are applying its policies in their decision making and it is positively influencing wider approaches to marine management. I particularly welcome the evidence that authorities are applying adaptive management as part of marine licensing for renewable energy projects – an approach which is technically challenging but absolutely vital if we are to respond to climate change with the urgency it demands. 

In order to make the best use of the policies within the plan, I believe there is a need for specific planning tools that can enable an increasingly spatial and prescriptive approach.

This work is already underway, with the publication last year of sector locational guidance for tidal stream, wave energy and aquaculture. The guidance assists communities and developers understand the potential for future development alongside the requirements to safeguard important features of the marine environment. These and other aspects of marine planning are presented by interactive maps available on the Wales Marine Planning Portal. 

Building on this work, we are currently mapping potential Strategic Resource Areas (SRAs) for tidal, wave, floating wind technologies, aggregates and aquaculture. These sectors are a vital means to enable us to protect our communities and our wildlife from the impact of the climate emergency. They also represent huge economic potential and opportunities for Wales to secure its position as a world centre for marine energy technologies. The huge energy potential of Welsh seas can be a means of drawing in high quality jobs right across the Welsh coastline from North to South. 

The development of SRAs is a collaborative process which has relied heavily on the commitment and expertise of a wide range of stakeholders, and I’d like to express my thanks for their invaluable support. 

The SRAs will enable us to safeguard areas with potential for future development whilst helping our understanding as to how we can direct important economic activity away from the most environmentally sensitive areas. It is important that we adopt a precautionary approach towards marine planning in line with our environmental principles, seeking to protect and recover sea life and coastal ecosystems. We must also ensure that we achieve progress in the deployment of technologies some of which are genuinely innovative. As we develop SRAs we will aim to reflect this balance in our overall approach – making progress in development by taking a precautionary approach to preventing environmental harm. 

This year I intend to bring forward potential SRAs for consultation and I would urge all those with an interest to take part. 

Alongside this work my officials will be working with stakeholders to develop Marine Planning Technical Statements, focused on safeguarding the interests of key marine sectors, including shipping, recreational boating and fishing.

Over the course of the year and building on the recommendations of the recent Deep Dive on Biodiversity, I intend to bring forward further proposals to implement spatial direction through the Welsh National Marine Plan. This will include consideration at a strategic, plan-level of environmental compensation and mitigation requirements and developing greater understanding in relation to potential development capacity and environmental constraints.  We will also be working with Natural Resources Wales to map areas of opportunity for environmental restoration and to develop formal marine planning guidance on decision making in support of marine ecosystem recovery.

Working closely with stakeholders including marine industries, we will use our first Welsh National Marine Plan and its strategic planning framework to provide greater spatial prescription for the protection of our seas and to promote sustainable development.