The North Sea is one of the most industrialised seas in the world. While ships queue to progress through its southern channels, navigable space allocated to wind farms could, according to some estimates, increase fifty-fold within just a few years. At the same time, it is essential to develop coherent networks of environmentally protected areas and engage in the European Commission's long term plan to support sustainable economic growth in the marine sectors.
We discovered that there is no single map or database plotting the various, often conflicting, uses of the Sea. Data are not in short supply, but duplication of effort wastes resources and means that the most value is not being derived from what is available. We conclude that there is an urgent need to commit to a properly resourced single cross-border data collection initiative. If appropriately funded, the evolving European Marine Observation and Data network could fulfil this function.
Tensions in the marine environment, both between contrasting environmental and economic objectives and between different economic users, can be managed through effective planning. Such planning is embryonic and unpredictable around the North Sea. The UK Government should initiate longer term strategic planning for the seas around the UK coastline, along the lines of the Dutch North Sea 2050 Agenda.
There are also substantial regulatory tensions. Different countries around the North Sea, for example, take different approaches to defining the environmental quality of their parts of the basin. The European Commission should improve guidance on the implementation of relevant EU law. As the responsibility for the marine environment lies at a local, an EU and an international level, we urge the UK Government to work with English local authorities to identify and address barriers to their co-operation with other authorities around the North Sea.
Current co-operation initiatives demonstrate that consistent political leadership is required in order for co-operation to flourish. It is also clear from experience that co-operation can deliver efficiencies and enable limited resources to go further. Cross-border energy co-operation in the North Sea has enormous potential, but regulatory barriers remain and we recommend that the Government work to overcome these. Co-operation in fisheries management has been furthered by the new responsibilities given to the Advisory Councils, but there is insufficient funding available for the enhanced role. We recommend that the UK Government consider how it can support the Advisory Councils to fulfil their duties. We also recommend that the European Commission publish guidance on the wider funding opportunities that exist to stimulate greater co-operation across all sectors.
Successful future marine co-operation in the North Sea region will require strong and effective political leadership. We recommend that the UK Government co-operate with other North Sea Member States to develop the pilot marine planning project that was proposed to us by the German government. This should lead the way towards the effective implementation of the Maritime Spatial Planning Directive and contribute to proactive planning on the part of Member States. We support the idea of a North Sea Maritime Forum to bring the full range of stakeholders together in an atmosphere of collaboration, but note that strong political leadership is still lacking.
We conclude that no existing body or mechanism has a broad enough remit to facilitate the political co-operation required to make the necessary step-change in the management of the North Sea basin. We recommend therefore, that the UK Government convene a North Sea ministerial conference in order to develop a holistic approach to all economic and environmental issues affecting the North Sea. Importantly, the conference should seek to deliver the urgently required political and strategic vision which will sustain this precious resource and secure it for future generations.