On 30 June 2021, the government published the National Marine Planning Framework (the NMPF). It is the first maritime spatial plan for Ireland, prepared in accordance with the EU's Maritime Spatial Planning Directive. It was widely consulted on, and was subject to Strategic Environmental Assessment, during 2020.
The government released the NMPF concurrently with the publication of the Maritime Area Planning Bill (the MAP Bill), which is the new legislative framework for forward planning, development management and enforcement in Ireland's offshore area. The NMPF will form an important part of that regime, once the MAP Bill is enacted. In particular, the NMPF will be a key consideration for decision makers on all authorisations for activities within the maritime area.
What does the NMPF do?
The NMPF is the national plan for Ireland's maritime area, and is the equivalent of the National Planning Framework onshore. The NMPF sits at the top of a hierarchy of plans and sectoral policies for the marine area. It comprises a single plan for the entire maritime area, with more detailed regional plans envisaged at a later date. The NMPF includes a number of "Overarching Marine Planning Policies" (OMPPs), which will apply to all marine activities or development. These OMPPs fall into three categories: Environmental, Economic and Social. Within these categories, the NMPF sets out more detailed policy imperatives including co‑existence, biodiversity, coastal and island communities and infrastructure.
Additionally, the NMPF sets out activity-specific or "sectoral marine planning policies" (SMPPs), which apply to particular classes of activities. The NMPF arranges these policies into 16 general sectors, including energy, wastewater treatment and disposal, fisheries, ports, and aquaculture and tourism. These objectives and policies include:
Support for offshore renewable energy proposals that assist the State in meeting the government's offshore renewable energy targets, including the target to achieve 5GW of capacity in offshore wind by 2030
Support for electricity transmission proposals that maintain or improve the security and diversity of Ireland's energy supply (including interconnectors and EU Projects of Common Interest), subject to environmental assessments
Support for proposals relating to the treatment, management and disposal of wastewater that services Ireland's social and economic development under the National Planning Framework, and are consistent with other policy documents
An objective under "emerging technologies" to further examine the feasibility of safe and cost effective use of Carbon Capture and Storage in Ireland
Support for natural gas storage proposals, subject to environmental assessments and security of supply considerations
Managing the potentially significant adverse effects of proposals on access for existing fisheries interests and current and future port activity
Ensuring that proposals for offshore renewable energy and infrastructure support safety at sea imperatives
Support for proposals that guarantee existing and future international telecommunications connectivity
Support for proposals that enable, promote or facilitate sustainable tourism and recreation
The NMPF includes reference maps for various activities and interests in Ireland's offshore area, which will be made available online here. This resource will be updated on an ongoing basis as further maps are developed. In particular, it is envisaged that a more detailed designation process will follow as part of the MAP legislation, which provides for identification of "Designated Maritime Activity Plans" that will apply to identified offshore areas.
The MAP Bill further provides that the NMPF is to be reviewed and if appropriate, replaced, within six years of publication.