Marine consultation closes: February18th

Tuesday 8th February 2011
Elephants at sea. Courtesy: flickr.com

Would 10 top marine expert signatories signing an open letter have any influence on the marine consultation which closes on 18 February? The most interesting take on the whole issue is laid out at the 'For Argyll' news. ComputeScotland reproduces its introduction for an experts detailed look at the crux to consultation issues.

"Marine Scotland’s document, Scottish Marine Regions: defining their boundaries, is in its consultation phase, with the closure date for responses on 18th February 2011 writes For Argyll. Its core concern is to arrive at the most effective planning management for Scotland’s marine area, overseeing the balance between the use and protection of resources towards ensuring sustainable economic growth. The planning function must also identify and  exclude anything capable of ravaging the marine area and bequeathing nothing – or problems – to future generations.

"Matters embraced by the marine plan to come – what ever way it is organised and implemented – include the development of marine based renewable energies; aquaculture; conservation; recreation and tourism; ports, harbours and shipping.

"The consultation document centrally deals with regionalised management – what would the regions be and where would their boundaries be drawn?

"The elephants in the room
There are two elephants in the room; both have mahouts external to Scotland and together they make any attempt at Scottish marine planning immediately redundant.

"The elephants are: The Crown Estate Commissioners & Fisheries.

"The planning situation proposed is effectively akin to sitting in a bunker below London during the blitz, considering the development of urban green spaces – while up above the bombers are reshaping the territory and the looters are clearing the valuables, as the talking in the bunker meanders endlessly on, deaf and blind to the real action.

"The Crown Estate Commissioners
"These public servants manage, in the public interest, the public asset that is the rights to the Scottish sea bed held in a portfolio of rights and assets historically called ‘The Crown Estate’.

"With devolution, these public servants scampered back to Westminster and made a single portfolio of the UK-wide rights and assets, removing separate accounting that had applied to the rights and assets held in Scotland.

"In offshore and marine renewable energies, the Crown Estate Commissioners have been independently issuing exclusivity agreements (exploration licences) to would-be developers for areas of the Scottish sea bed.

"Already their activities have left the isle of Tiree facing being ringed by no fewer than three offshore wind farms and a wave farm. The first of these – the Argyll Array wind farm (aka the Tiree Array) – exclusively issued to Scottish Power Renewables, is for a wind farm over four and a half times the size of the 30 square mile island and lying to its west and south west. This monster starts at only 3 miles offshore and will cover 139 square miles of sea with up to 500 turbines.

"This includes the sea area where the Skerryvore lighthouse, recognised as the world’s most beautiful, stands 48 metres high. It is due to be circled by tiers of turbines between 180 and 200 metres high – three to four times higher than itself.

"The Mull of Kintyre faces being ringed to the south and south west by a wave farm and an ‘offshore’ (?) wind farm – the Kintyre Array – that also peppers the main sailing route up the west coast of Scotland. These are the Argyll waters celebrated as the best sailing grounds in Europe.

"This wind farm is so close inshore that it dominates an area of outstanding natural beauty – a site of special scientific interest (SSSI), with two individually distinctive world class golf courses  and a beach fast becoming a specialist west coast surfing venue.

"But the Crown Estate Commissioners have issued and profited from their exclusivity agreements. At a public meeting last week, part of the consultation process, we asked what the relation of Crown Estate Commissioners would be, to the planning process for the Scottish marine area and the answer was a resigned shrug and a ‘Well, that’s the question.’

"So what is the point of spending time and a great deal of money going through the hoops of creating and consulting on a plan to manage planning that has been and can be – at any time – subverted by an external body whose profits go straight out of Scotland and into the UK exchequer?

"Answer: none. First get the horse between the traces and towing the cart.

Fisheries
"The most immediate issue facing marine planning is anything and everything to do with fisheries. This carries issues that are live now – not later. They need decisions and action now – not later. And this is not going to happen.

"There are matters of conservation of stocks, no take zones, quotas, damage to the sea bed inflicted by foreign trawlers – and this damage literally impacts upon the living and the non-living elements on the sea floor.

"And the authority structures here reach to the outer concentric ring of the European Commission.

"So again, the planning controls available to manage the Scottish marine area, regionalised or not, are centrally compromised from the outset. All they can effectively do is fiddle at the edges, while Crown Estate Commissioners flog the bed from under them and others finish off what is left."

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