The RYA is advising clubs and training centres to undertake any required maintenance/navigational dredging activity before 1 April 2012.
This is because as of 1 April 2012 all maintenance and navigational dredging activity will require consent through a marine licence and may attract a fee that could be disproportionate to the level of activity being undertaken.
In England, the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) is currently developing its management plan for administering marine licences for these previously unlicensed dredging activities. They aim to have this plan in place by April 2012.
The Department of Environment Northern Ireland, Marine Scotland and the Welsh Government Marine Consents Unit are also developing their own plans within their respective jurisdictions.
Clubs and training centres will still need to go through the existing processes, such as gaining consent from the harbour authority or approval from Government advisors such as Natural England or the Environment Agency.
RYA had secured Ministerial assurance that licence system would be proportionate
During the passage of the Marine and Coastal Access Bill in 2009, the RYA secured a Ministerial assurance to the effect that any regulatory management system for maintenance/navigational dredging will be applied “proportionately to the risk and impact of the marine activity...”.
The Minister also stated that “we are actively exploring the extent to which we can exempt low-risk dredging activities from the need for a marine licence. We want to ensure that operators doing the necessary work of keeping navigational channels clear of silt and other debris can continue to do so without unnecessary regulatory burden, but still with adequate regard to the impact of their activities.”
However, it has become clear that these Ministerial assurances had not been communicated to the MMO. In addition, because maintenance/navigational dredging has not previously been an activity subject to licence, the MMO has limited experience to draw upon in ascertaining how much it will cost to administer and therefore what the licence fee should be.
It is not clear at this stage how the relevant authorities in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales will approach this issue.
This is why the RYA is concerned that clubs and training centres could face a disproportionate fee if they leave dredging work until after April 2012.
RYA also concerned with licence fee structure
As a separate issue, the MMO is also reviewing its current fee structure for all marine licences, including for maintenance dredging.
The RYA is already concerned that the current MMO licence fees in place for activities that require a marine licence are not proportionate or appropriate to be applied to small-scale, low impact activities such as replacing pontoons or maintenance/navigational dredging and we welcome this fee review.
Unfortunately, however, this review is planned for spring next year and the MMO does not plan to make any adjustments that may be required to the fee structure until around October 2012.
As a consequence, we advise clubs and training centres that are considering undertaking maintenance/navigational dredging work to complete such work prior to 1 April 2012.
This issue is peculiar to England, since the relevant authorities in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales have developed their own fee structures.
In the meantime, the RYA continues to lobby the MMO and the licensing bodies for Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales in an effort to ensure that the system is fair and proportionate, in terms of both the regulatory and financial burdens on clubs.
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Alana Murphy, RYA Planning and Environmental Advisor