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Of course I accept the point that the noble Lord has outlined. I know him to be a far more experienced planner than I have ever expected to be. He will appreciate that there is a challenge in the Bill that is not altogether foursquare with the terrestrial experience. That is why we have created the framework in the Bill. The noble Baroness was keen to explore whether we would recognise that different areas of marine activity have vastly different intensities, and therefore that we need concepts of variable planning and how it locks together. I hope the noble Lord will accept that this is no easy matter. It is challenging and we will have to learn through the development of experience. I hope he will recognise that in the Bill we have the structure to make the necessary plans. However, we are bound to approach it with a certain degree of flexibility and with perhaps not quite the certainty that he might wish for now and have expected in the Planning Act.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: I thank my noble friend Lord Greaves for his support. He is absolutely right that terrestrial planning has strategic

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planning and local development frameworks, that below them you can have parish plans, and that they all nest together. I am slightly hopeful about the Minister’s words. I shall carefully read in Hansard his comments on how the plan’s detail will depend on the complexity of the issues addressed. I want to see exactly what he said because it was a key statement.

I am concerned that in areas with greater pressure—those areas nearer the coast facing the more complex issues we have mentioned—there will need to be more than just compatibility with the terrestrial plans. That point is still being lost in this debate, but we will come back to it. The Minister thinks that there can be a marine plan and terrestrial plans and the two will sit side by side in parallel, but, in fact, they will need to be integrated. The only way to integrate them is to legislate for that in the Bill.

Defra has done a lot of work on an integrated coastal management scheme and its strategy for promoting that is a good one. The only weakness in the whole thing is that it thinks, as the Minister repeated, that you can have two planning systems running in parallel and it will produce an integrated coastal planning system. It will not. If you want to integrate things you have to make a mechanism whereby they can be integrated. At the moment, that is what the Bill lacks. As I say, we will come back to it. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 86J withdrawn.

Clause 47 agreed.

Clause 48 agreed.

6.45 pm

Clause 49: Marine plans for marine plan areas

Amendment 87

Moved by Lord Taylor of Holbeach

87: Clause 49, page 24, line 29, leave out “may” and insert “must, by 2012,”

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: We have already gone into great detail about the requirement to produce a marine policy statement. It should therefore come as no surprise that Amendments 87, 87A and 87B address concerns that there should also be a requirement for a marine plan authority to prepare a marine plan. This is not an unreasonable expectation. All of us are anxious to avoid marine drift, and if a marine plan authority is not to produce a marine plan, one might ask: what is it for?

I know that the Government are keen on flexibility, but surely the Minister must agree that, without a duty on the relevant authority to draw up the plan, the Marine and Coastal Access Bill loses some of its force. We have called for this Bill for a very long time. We do not want to see a Bill that is weakened by language which only allows things to happen rather than propelling them to do so. While I obviously support the noble

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Baronesses, Lady Hamwee and Lady Young, I prefer my drafting, because it calls into question the idea of a specific timetable allowing for the production of a marine plan. This is perhaps the “reasonable time” that the noble Baroness, Lady Young, refers to in her amendment. Does the Minister agree that this is a reasonable expectation?

I should also like to probe the length of time that the Minister thinks it might take the marine plan authorities to produce their plans. Does he think that 2012 gives them ample time? If so, why does he not want to put it into the Bill? The amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, seems sensibly to demand that if, as the Bill stands, a marine plan authority may prepare a marine plan for only part of its area, there should be a duty to report on the status of marine planning across the region. This would be crucial to keep track of the extent of planning, specifically so that areas that seem to be lagging behind could perhaps be encouraged to extend their plans. However, we would take this one stage further. Amendment 88 demands that there should be a duty on the marine plan authority to create one plan or several across the entire region.

It seems clear to me that the goal of sustainable development will be achieved with greater success and ease if it is imperative that the plans cover the whole area. There is a danger in the Bill that plans may be produced only for busy coastal areas without making provision for the region as a whole, for example by making plans for the Thames and Humber estuaries and—if I may say so, bringing it near to home for me—for the Wash, but not for the North Sea in its entirety. This sort of partial planning undermines the objectives of the MMO as a whole.

We on these Benches think that plans must be made in a proportionate manner, varying with regard to the amount of information available and the necessary detail. This would mean that there could be comprehensive plans across the whole marine area, without taking up too much unnecessary time or effort for plans that will remain less detailed. Furthermore, it is crucial that the marine plans are produced in co-ordination with the designation of marine conservation zones. Perhaps the Minister can elaborate on how this is expected to work and what sort of timescale he feels would be appropriate. I beg to move.

Baroness Young of Old Scone: I wish to speak to my Amendments 87B and 88A. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, for endorsing much of what I had planned to say. This is a sort of twin-track set of amendments; one is to get the marine planning authorities to make some plans, which seems fairly basic, as the noble Lord said, and the other is to make sure that there is comprehensive coverage of the whole UK marine area within a reasonable timeframe.

My two amendments propose that an authority must have a duty to make plans within a reasonable time and that, if it has not completed the coverage of marine plans, there should be an annual report that describes what still needs to be done and ponders somewhat on the reasons why there is delay. I hope that the Minister will recognise that the amendments have support across the House. They are pretty reasonable,

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because I recognise what the Government have said in response to the Joint Committee, which said that it was more important to get marine planning and plans right rather than meet a deadline. Amendment 87B does not have a deadline, but simply has gentle encouragement and provides for public exposure when planning authorities are not quite hacking it fast enough.

I know that the Minister is somewhat reluctant to take comparisons between terrestrial experience and marine experience, but there is no doubt that in some of the earlier decades of the terrestrial planning process there were inordinate delays in preparing plans. That created either huge planning blight or uncoordinated development problems. We really should as a civilised nation perhaps learn from the past 60 years of the terrestrial planning process and let it inform our approach to marine planning.

The comprehensive planned coverage of the marine area is important. The Marine Management Organisation cannot make consistent and defensible decisions about licences, for example, if it only has partial coverage of plans. You could see a sort of Klondike effect in areas where there was no adequate plan, whereby anyone who wanted to do anything despoiling immediately rushed towards them—“Over here, boys, there’s no plan here”. We could see kind of sink areas whereby activities that are not allowed in areas covered by plans suddenly pop up in areas that have no plans yet written for them.

There is also a risk, as the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, said, that everyone pays attention to the busy areas close to the coasts, where there is lots of interest, but difficult and tricky conservation and exploitation issues are likely to come up in some of the most far-flung and extreme edges of the marine area, which otherwise might be neglected. They will be the most difficult areas to gather evidence for. Therefore, it is more important to get started on some of those areas early, so that the evidence base for what sensible decisions would look like can be gathered first.

If we do not get pretty comprehensive coverage in a reasonable timeframe, we will have some difficulty in reaching the deadlines of the European marine strategy framework directive, which requires that strategies are produced for all the seas, and marine planning is the mechanism by which that happens in practice. The Government need to apply their mind to the fact that the marine strategy framework would be very hard to achieve without comprehensive coverage of plans.

I know that the Minister will give assurances that everyone will press on with plans, but in some of the previous debates about the devolved Administrations I was not sure that he had any confidence that he could make anything happen in them. The overreliance on good will in this Bill is becoming a bit thin.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: I must respond to that. I have shown great confidence that the arrangements will work, but because of the devolution settlement they are not something that we can simply legislate for. We can devise incentives that will make people want to work together. From all the discussions that have taken place, I am confident that there is good will on the part of the UK Government and the devolved Administrations to do so.

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Baroness Young of Old Scone: I am sorry if I inspired the Minister’s wrath, but I am sure that, being a reasonable man, he would recognise that my requirement for an annual report on the coverage of marine plans is simply a useful way of producing a kind of competitive spirit among the devolved Administrations, including the English Administration, to vie for being the first to the completion line of all the marine plans.

I beg the pardon of the Committee if I am slightly foghorn-like, if that is not too bad a marine analogy, but my voice is packing in.

We need to take a proportionate approach to different plans for different areas, as the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, said. Some plans will need to be pretty complex, because there will be lots of activities and conflicts; indeed, we know quite a lot about those areas. In other parts there will be only a single issue, and that may well need to be the only issue dealt with in the plan. A duty and an annual check is not much to ask.

Baroness Hamwee: My amendment is a minnow in this group. The noble Baroness said everything and more that I would have wanted to say. I had not thought about the marine gold rush that she conjured up, nor had I thought about her amendment as an incentive, a lollipop or a carrot. However, I agree with her.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: I shall speak briefly to my Amendment 87C in this group, which, again, talks of how much detail the plans will go into. Will the Minister comment on the statement on page 20 of AStrategy for Promoting an Integrated Approach to the Management of Coastal Areas? It states:

“Work is currently being taken forward which will consider mechanisms that will enable the Marine Management Organisation to develop Marine Plans with the full participation of coastal regulators, authorities and stakeholders”.

Is he able to share with us anything about the work done so far, because the strategy was published a little while ago and presumably the work has carried on? It would be helpful to know where work on those mechanisms has reached. That would certainly answer some questions. What will happen, for example, if there is disagreement between a terrestrial planning authority and the MMO over a particular issue? They can have regard to, but may not like, each other’s plans. What will happen then? Will there be a stalemate?

Baroness Byford: I support my noble friend’s amendments. All of us around the Committee are agreed that there must be greater urgency in this section of the Bill, and that “may” should be changed to “must”. I hope at the very least that the Minister will satisfy us in that way. I appreciate that my noble friend’s amendment states that 2012 should be the date by which arrangements should be put in place. I lean a little towards the more “reasonable” timeframe in the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, which may be more appropriate. If the Minister is unable to accept the 2012 deadline, there may be a good reason why not.

I was intrigued by the noble Baroness’s scenario of, “There are no plans here—let’s get on with it, boys”. It was genuinely meant and it underlines some of the

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problems we face in this part of the Bill. We seek clarification on that. I hope that the Minister will not just say, “We want to remain flexible”, because throughout the Bill some of us, while accepting that it needs areas of flexibility, have been concerned that it is so flexible that there is nothing solid there at all. That would fail the hopes and aspirations that people have for this Bill. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

Lord Greenway: Presumably marine plans depend to a great extent on what is included in the marine policy statement, and the timing of that certainly exercised the Joint Committee. The Government’s response was that they had hoped that the marine policy statement would be issue within two years of the Bill receiving Royal Assent. That takes us up to the end of 2011. Is it the Government’s intention that people should beaver away on these marine plans and try to second guess what might be in the marine policy statement, or will people have to wait until it comes out?

7 pm

Lord Davies of Oldham: There are enough questions there to keep the Committee, and certainly me, busy for a little while, but I shall do my very best to respond to them.

First, marine planning is essentially a process that will help us to be proactive about the way that we use and protect our marine resources and the interactions between different activities which affect them. The policies in the one, single marine policy statement, which will apply throughout the UK marine area, will be implemented through the more detailed provisions in the plans that we are discussing. Ultimately, the decisions that affect what happens where in our seas will be taken within this strategic framework, leading to more consistent and evidence-based decision-making.

As this short debate on this group of amendments has reflected, through our debates on the Bill we have all become aware of the range of interests in the marine environment and of how complex that environment is. The Bill will not make matters more complex; it will deliver better systems of marine management throughout the UK. The planning system is the concrete example of the tool that will bring together those different interests. Better planning will mean that more sustainable, informed licensing decisions can be made, as public authorities must take authorisation decisions in accordance with the marine policy statement and plans. The plans will raise awareness of the vast range of activities taking place at sea so that anyone with an interest can really appreciate the diversity of the marine environment and its resources.

I emphasise that we intend our system of marine planning to be a fully participatory planning system. The questions of who, where, when and how people can get involved will be laid down in the statement of public participation at the very start of the preparation of each plan. The involvement of all those with an interest will be encouraged and enabled from the earliest possible opportunity.

Business and industry will benefit from the clarity and additional information that the planning will make available, alongside the new joined-up licensing system.

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Through the marine policy statement, marine industries will also be able to see the strategic policies and objectives for the UK marine environment, and will therefore be able to plan their activities and future development in line with the overall aims.

Planning should reduce uncertainty for developers in the marine area, and the marine plans will apply the policy priorities set out in the marine policy statement to a specific area. We recently published our strategy for promoting an integrated approach to the management of coastal areas in England, and a copy was sent to all Members of this House. Within that document, we explain in more detail how marine planning will be integrated with planning and management mechanisms on the land side of the coast, a matter which I know greatly exercises a number of noble Lords participating in this Committee. A comprehensive planning system for land and sea will enable us to understand the cumulative effect of all our activities on marine and coastal areas.

Noble Lords have tabled amendments which set some detailed and interesting challenges within this general framework. I recognise the importance of those challenges but I think that they are supportive of the framework. The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, questions whether the marine plan or plans can meet a certain deadline, and the noble Baroness, Lady Young, requires an annual report to be made to legislatures.

I emphasise that marine planning is a new system for the UK. It will have a great deal of direct influence on what happens at sea and around the coast, and of course we want to get it right. We are fully committed to using the new powers that will be created in the Bill, when enacted, and we intend to create marine plans which will enable us to take a much more sustainable and coherent approach to managing our seas. The Bill enables marine plan authorities to prepare a marine plan consisting of the whole or any part of the marine planning region. We consider that to be the right approach.

As was said earlier in relation to a duty to prepare a marine policy statement, prescribing such duties in legislation is difficult and can lead to unwanted consequences. We consider prescribing details such as the area that must be planned for and putting a fixed deadline in legislation to be unwise. I listened very carefully to the deployment of the noble Lord’s argument for a deadline of 2012, but there is a general anxiety about the risk of plans being rushed or compromised in order to meet such a deadline. A hasty plan would be likely to cause more confusion for decision-makers than no plan at all and, worse, it would have the potential to cause environmental or economic damage if insufficient time were taken to consider and understand the underlying data and likely effects of the plan’s provisions.

We know from experience in other countries that developed marine planning systems often evolve during implementation. That is why I constantly refer—and I accept an element of criticism on this—to the necessity to retain flexibility to enable us to create sound plans which have the support of those whose communities, livelihoods and decisions will be affected.

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We envisage that plans will be created through a gradual, phased approach. This is partly because there will inevitably be an evolutionary nature to this new system and partly because of the resources that will be available at any given time. That is why, in this process, we are notoriously reluctant to commit so far ahead to a fixed timing for all the plans. After the first few years, we will have a better idea of how longs things are taking and what problems may lead to delays. I give way to the noble Baroness.

Baroness Byford: I am sorry. I know that the Minister is having difficulty today, and I sympathise with him over the problem that he has with his eye. The comment that he made just now slightly worried me. He inferred that some of the plans would not be able to go ahead because of unknown resources. Is he indicating to the Committee that there are not enough resources or that resources have not been allocated for this work? Clearly, if the resources are not there, I do not see how we can move forward on this matter. Can he clarify that?

Lord Davies of Oldham: I am arguing the more general case that the totality of the planning system is bound to be a distant objective, and I am merely reflecting the fact that of course resources need to be devoted to it. However, the noble Baroness will recognise that there is a limit to—

Lord Greaves: Does the Minister understand that what is causing so much concern around the Chamber is his use of words such as “distant” objective? How distant is that? It might be 50 years. He also referred to “gradual” phasing. I think that phasing is acceptable to everyone but it is words such as gradual that are causing great concern around the Committee that the Government will simply not take this matter seriously.

Lord Davies of Oldham: We are taking the issue seriously but the Committee will recognise where our ambition lies with to regard to the Bill. A sound marine plan will take about two years to prepare and the Bill will not receive Royal Assent until the middle of this year at the earliest, but the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, would have the job completed by 2012. I am indicating that we do not consider that to be a realistic timetable.

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: I went to considerable lengths to say that the detail of each plan would vary according to the time available, the circumstances and the degree of knowledge. That is widely shared by the Committee. The concern of the Committee on this issue is that the Minister is advocating a policy of drift and these plans will be one of the main drivers of the policy. Without a legislative driver it will be all too easy for the Government to let the policy jog along.

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