Marine Planning

Marine planning is about the management of our seas. The aim is to ensure a sustainable future for our coastal and offshore waters through managing and balancing the many activities, resources and assets in our marine environment.

What is marine planning?

Marine planning contributes to the effective management of marine activities and more sustainable use of our marine resources. The objective is to make the most of our marine space; maximising the potential of some activities, and at the same time safeguarding the future of others.

It follows a similar approach to terrestrial planning; setting the direction for decision making at a local level to lead to efficient and sustainable use of marine resources.

Marine planning:

  • guides marine users to the most suitable locations for different activities;
  • manages the use of marine resources to ensure sustainable levels;
  • works with all marine users to ensure everyone has an opportunity to contribute to marine plans;
  • takes a holistic approach to decision making, and considers all the benefits and impacts of all current and future activities that occur in our marine environment.

The Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 established the legal basis for marine planning, while the UK Marine Policy Statement (MPS) provides the policy framework and context for marine plans. Marine Plans put into practice the marine environment objectives identified in the MPS, the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and the Localism Act 2011. Public bodies should make decisions in line with an adopted plan or the MPS, and any relevant national policy statements. 

The Marine and Coastal Access Act divides UK waters into marine planning regions with an inshore region (Mean High Water Springs – 12 nautical miles) and offshore region (12 – c.200 nautical miles) under each of the four Administrations, with an associated plan authority who prepares a marine plan for the area. In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the devolved administrations are the planning authorities and in England the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) are the planning authority. 

To help explain marine planning, the MMO have have produced a short marine planning animation. To find out more about how each country is planning their marine environment, and to learn about how the RYA is working to represent the interests of recreational boaters, see below, or click on the relevant country tab above.

Why is marine planning relevant to recreational boating?

Although recreational boating developments are likely to be relatively small scale, all operators and regulators in a marine area will be expected to work to the same plan, providing transparency and consistency in decision-making. It is therefore important that recreational boaters are aware of, and understand, the implications of new marine plans as they are developed around the UK.

Boaters should engage with the marine planning process in their area to ensure the importance and value of recreational boating is recognised. The RYA is working to ensure that no marine plan policies restrict boating or discourage the development of improved facilities and access.

RYA involvement

The RYA has, and will continue to, engage directly with the MMO on a national as well as a local basis in a coordinated manner to ensure recreational boating remains a key consideration. We will endeavour to keep members informed about how they can get involved, making good use of our Regional Committees as well as our e-newsletters.



In England, the inshore and offshore waters have been split into 11 marine plan areas. Each area will have a marine plan with a 20 year view of activities, with the aim to review them every three years. A marine plan becomes a statutory consideration in all relevant planning decisions once it is published for public consultation1

The development of each marine plan goes through a 12-stage process before reaching completion, and stakeholder involvement is key. From establishing the baseline, to developing the draft planning policies, stakeholder input is essential to ensure the finished plans are realistic, workable and adoptable.

The MMO Strategic Scoping Report identifies natural resources and recreational and industrial activities in the marine area. An independent study relating to maximising the socio-economic benefits of marine planning has also been undertaken to assist those creating Marine Plans. 

The MMO have published the marine planning evidence base as an online interactive mapping tool, the Marine Information System.

East Marine Plans

England's first marine plans - the East Inshore and East Offshore Marine Plans - were published on 2nd April 2014 and cover the area Flamborough Head to Felixstowe. This area is important for offshore energy production including oil and gas activity and wind farm sites, aggregate extraction, as well as housing major ports, fisheries, and aquaculture facilities2. The three year report on the East Marine Plans was published in March 2017.

South Marine Plans

Stretching between Folkestone in Kent and the River Dart in Devon, the South Marine Plans, published in July 2018, cover some of the most important areas for recreational boating in England. As well as the significant economic contribution from recreational boating along the south coast, it forms a key part of the cultural character of the area which is steeped in maritime history. 

In January 2012 work started on the South Inshore and Offshore Marine Plan Areas with public workshops being held in Exeter, Brighton and Southampton. The draft South Marine Plan was open for consultation between the 7th November 2016 and 27th January 2017. This was the final stage of public consultation before the MMO submit the Plans to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs for approval.  

Further Marine Plans

Plans for the other marine plan areas are being produced concurrently. The MMO hosted a number of regional workshops in early 2019 as part of its iteration 3 engagement for the North East, North West, South East, and South West plans. Online surveys were open for feedback until the end of March 2019.

Consultations on the first iteration of the plans for the North East, North West, South East, and South West took place early in 2017, and on the second iteration between January and March 2018. Statements of Public Participation (SPP) set out how and when the MMO will engage with stakeholders as they develop each marine plan. The process is to be iterative, with final plans aimed to be published by 2021. 


The Welsh Government has responsibility for marine planning in the Welsh marine area. Due to resourcing issues, progress on Welsh marine planning has been slower than anticipated. In 2011 the Welsh Government consulted on their proposed strategy for marine planning in Wales, which put forward the approach of a National Marine Plan, supported by Regional Marine Plans where necessary to deliver local detail.

In 2014 a Statement of Public Participation was published to set out how the Welsh Government would engage with the public and those with an interest in the Welsh marine area. 

The Welsh National Marine Plan initial draft was published in November 2015, and was open to comment until January 2016. 

The Welsh Marine Stakeholder Reference Group, with representatives from industry and organisations including the RYA, has been established to advise on the development of the marine plan. The RYA together with RYA Cymru-Wales has been engaging closely with the Welsh Government on the issue of marine planning to ensure that recreational boating is given due consideration.

Further information can be found on the Welsh Government website (in English and Cymraeg). A Welsh Government animation to explain marine planning in Wales is also available. 



The Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 gave the Scottish Government the authority to introduce statutory marine planning for Scotland's seas. Scotland has a National Marine Plan, to be complemented by Regional Marine Plans to deliver local detail.

The Scottish National Marine Plan

The Scottish National Marine Plan was published in March 2015. It covers management of both Scottish inshore waters (out to 12 nautical miles) and offshore waters (12 to 200 nautical miles). The map above shows the extent of the Marine Plan area. It will manage increasing demands for the use of the marine environment, encourage economic development of marine industries, and incorporate environmental protection into marine decision making. It will also have a role to play in managing adaptation to climate change.

The Scottish Government published a Statement of Public Participation (SPP) to identify how and when they planned to engage the public throughout the development of the National Marine Plan. 

The National Marine Plan is available as an online interactive map through the National Marine Plan Interactive (NMPi). The RYA contributed to the data contained within this map in order to ensure that recreational boating information was built into the evidence base. Further information on the NMPi is available here

Scottish Marine Regions

Where national marine planning sets the wider context for planning within Scotland, regional marine planning will allow more local ownership and decision making about the specific issues within a smaller area. Following consultation, a system of regional marine plans for Scottish waters were drawn up around 11 Scottish Marine Regions (SMRs), the boundaries of which are illustrated by the coloured areas in the map above. These are laid out in the the Scottish Marine Regions Order 2015

Regional marine planning will be taken forward by Marine Planning Partnerships, which will be made up of marine stakeholders that reflect marine interests in their region. Regional marine planning powers will be delegated to the Partnerships by Scottish Ministers3. The first partnerships are to cover the Clyde and Shetland Isles SMRs. 

How has the RYA been involved in marine planning in Scotland?

Together with RYA Scotland (RYAS), the RYA has been working closely with Marine Scotland to influence to marine planning process in Scotland. RYAS were also involved in the consultation process on the boundaries of the SMRs and is continuing to engage on this issue as it progresses.


Northern Ireland

The Marine Act (Northern Ireland) 2013 established the Department of the Environment (DOE) as the Marine Plan Authority for Northern Ireland's inshore (0-12 nautical miles) and offshore (beyond 12 nautical miles) regions respectively. Following the restructuring of Government Departments that came into force in May 2016, this is now the responsibility of the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA). 

DAERA has been developing marine plans for the inshore and offshore regions simultaneously, and will create one document which was to be referred to as the Northern Ireland Marine Plan.

In June 2012 a Statement of Public Participation (SPP) was published, which identified how and when they planned to engage the public throughout the development of the Marine Plan. This was updated in December 2014, with a revised timetable. The RYA, together with RYA Northern Ireland, is engaging closely with DAERA to ensure that recreational boating is given due consideration.

The marine plan was to be informed by the Sustainability Appraisal, for which consultation has been held on a scoping report in 2014. In October 2015 a progress report on the marine plan process was published. Subsequent updates have been provided through the marine plan stakeholder newsletters

The draft marine plan was sent to consultants for Sustainability Appraisal assessment in September 20154. A publicly accessible map-viewer is also under development5, to provide information and aid public authorities in their decision-making.

DAERA launched public consultation on the proposed Marine Plan for Northern Ireland in April 2018. The RYA's Planning and Environment team submitted it's response in June 2018.





[4] DOENI, 2015. A Report by the Department of the Environment on the Marine Plan Process in Northern Ireland. 

[5] DOENI, 2016. Marine Plan Stakeholder Newsletter January 2016.