Regulatory Responsibilities & Enforcement Mechanisms Relevant to Marine Nature Conservation in the United Kingdom
Report to JNCC
Boyes, W., Warren, L. & Elliott, H.
Institute of Estuarine and Coastal Studies, University of Hull
© Defra 2003


The strengths and potentail weaknesses of the sectoral approach to regulation of activities below mean low water mark in the UK were discussed in a review undertaken by the Department of Environment and the Welsh Office in 1993 (DoE / Welsh Office, 1993a).  Management arrangements in the UK are divided for coastal areas above and below mean low water mark (MLWM).  Above MLWM, local authorities have powers to control development and use of land under the Town and Country Planning Act, 1990.  The planning system is designed to control development through an applications system, and decisions must be made in accordance with the planning authorities' development plans.  There is also government planning guidance which recognises the special nature of the coastal zone in PPG20, Coastal Planning and PPG14, Development of Unstable Land (Humphrey & Burbridge, 1999).
Below MHWM, statutory controls mostly operate on a sectoral basis.  Regulated activities include aggregate extraction, shipping, oil and gas development, cables and pipelines, coastal defence, historic sites, nature conservation, fisheries, recreation and increasing moves to establish offshore renewable energy sites.  Consents and licences are awarded for development below low water after an informed judgement is made based on the best available evidence through the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) procedure and the imminent Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive (SEA).  The Government View procedure requires that a favourable Government View is required to support applications to the Crown Estate.
Coastal areas have suffered from a lack of dedicated policy and regulatory coordination (Huggett, 1998; Local Government Association (LGA), 2000; Allmendinger et al., 2002). However, there is a growing realisation that "the coast is not only a complex natural environment; it is also a complex policy area where a range of agencies with differing, but often overlapping, objectives, responsibilities and powers operate" (Scottish Office, 1997).  There is a mass of roles and responsibilities undertaken by different government bodies that has led to the decline in water quality in coastal regions, the degradation and destruction of critical habitats, the loss of key fisheries and threats to biodiversity (Olsen et al, 1997).
In the late 1990s, there has been an unparalleled increase in the growth of responsibilities on marine authorities, to take account environmental issues (Laffoley & Bines, 2000) such as full compliance with the obligations of the Habitats Directive. During the same period there has been less evidence of  the joined up thinking required to match responsibilities to the required competencies, resources and organisation of the authorities.
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Please cite as: Boyes, W., Warren, L. & Elliott, H., (2003), Regulatory Responsibilities & Enforcement Mechanisms Relevant to Marine Nature Conservation in the United Kingdom, Institute of Estuarine and Coastal Studies, University of Hull