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Marine Controls

In 2009, the Marine and Coastal Access Act (MCAA) established a new system of integrated marine management with unified licensing controls to implement the Government's strategic objectives for the marine environment. These came into force on 6 April 2011. The regime is overseen by the Marine Management Organisation (MMO).

This guide provides a summary of the licensing regime.

What are the main features of the licensing regime?

The MCAA, underpinned by a new Marine Policy Statement, provides a consolidated system of marine licensing controls to bring together a number of disparate regulatory regimes.

Companies and organisations wishing to undertake operations in the marine environment must apply to the MMO for a marine licence. For the purposes of the controls, 'licensable marine activities' include:

  • the deposit of substances or objects;
  • constructing, altering or improving works;
  • removing substances and objects from the sea bed;
  • dredging;
  • deposit and use of explosives.

Inevitably, licensable marine activities will cover a range of operations including aggregate operations, dredging activities, offshore renewable, ports and harbour works and leisure activities. Certain activities, however, are exempt from marine licensing controls including:

  • fire fighting and salvage;
  • certain dredging operations undertaken under specific legislation;
  • specified oil and gas activities carried out under petroleum licences or licences for the importation and storage of gas.

More information is available in the Marine Licensing (Exempt Activities) Order.

Failure to obtain the appropriate licence or breach of a condition of such a licence is an offence with the potential to attract a fine up to a maximum of £50,000 in the Magistrate's Court or a fine and/or imprisonment of up to two years on indictment.

What is the underlying policy?

The MMO took over responsibility for marine matters on 1 April 2010. It is a non-departmental public body created by the MCAA. The MMO inherited the responsibilities and functions of the Marine and Fisheries Agency and at the same time took on a number of marine-focussed powers and functions previously associated with the Department of Energy and Climate Change and the Department for Transport.

Briefly, the MMO is responsible for:

  • implementing the marine planning system and licensing regime;
  • managing the UK fishing fleet capacity and fishing quotas;
  • working with Natural England and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) to create and manage a new network of marine protected areas;
  • responding to marine emergencies;
  • working with the Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC) on nationally significant infrastructure projects that affect the marine environment.

How are licensing decisions made?

The Marine Policy Statement (MPS) provides the framework and context against which all marine decisions will be made. In addition to this, it will inform national and local plans. Once adopted new Marine Plans will, together with the MPS, form of the basis for marine licensing controls, informing decisions that authorise licensable marine activities and approve enforcement action being taken when required. Marine Plans will interpret national policies and apply area-specific criteria to the management of marine resources.

All licensing decisions must be made in accordance with the MPS and Marine Plans unless relevant considerations indicate otherwise.

Fees and charges

The MMO is obliged to recover its costs for any services that it provides. It divides the fees and charges that it applies into three broad categories.

Pre-application advice: the MMO provides advice on application procedures and broad discussions of proposals for two hours free of charge, after which it charges a flat fee and a non-refundable deposit. This can vary from £1,000 to £10,000 depending on the project.

Environmental Impact Assessment charges: charges are made for assessing applications and projects.

Fixed fees: charges are made for processing:

  • tier 1 fast track proposals with limited risk - for example simple moorings, scaffolding, boreholes, emergency works, minor outfalls and jetties;
  • tier 2 routine proposals – for example construction, berthing pontoons and slipways, coast protection works, new quay walls, wave/tidal developments and maintenance dredges;
  • tier 3 proposals for the most complex, variable and bespoke projects.

Applications for tier 3 proposals also require a nonrefundable deposit of up to £10,000, and additional costs and disposal charges up to a maximum of £15,000 may apply. A percentage of all maintenance and capital dredging and mineral extraction is included in the costing for such projects.

There are no statutory timescales for the determination of applications by the MMO. MMO guidance does, however, provide indicative timescales.

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