Marine Planning

Local involvement in the sustainable and efficient use of our marine resources is a key aspiration of the Comhairle and marine planning represents an opportunity to ensure future pressures are addressed in a sustainable and co-ordinated manner with the involvement of the local community. 

The Outer Hebrides are highly dependent on marine resources and the quality of the marine and coastal environment and the Comhairle is committed to their sustainable economic development.  There are many users of the marine environment, including those involved in economic activities (such as fishing, aquaculture and mari-culture) and users of marine space (such as for harbours, shipping, tourism and recreation, renewable energy generation and military training).

National Marine Planning 

In contrast to Scotland’s well-developed terrestrial planning system, a comprehensive policy framework for the sea has only recently been initiated. A new plan-led system was introduced to sustainably manage the increasing and conflicting demands on one of Scotland’s most important resources. Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) does not replace single-sector planning but aims to give greater clarity to decision making. Under the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010, Ministers must prepare a National Marine Plan (NMP) and have the option to prepare Regional Marine Plans (RMPs) for Scotland’s marine regions (out to 12 nm). Marine Plans do not replace or remove existing regulatory regimes or legislative requirements but provide direction to a range of marine decisions and consents.  

The Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 ('the Act') along with the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 ('the UK Act') (the marine Acts) forms the legislative framework for the marine environment. Implementation of the Marine Acts provides key delivery mechanisms for international obligations and Directives. The Act provides a framework to help balance competing demands on Scotland's seas. It introduces duties to protect and enhance the marine environment. In accordance with Part 2 of the Act, Scottish Ministers and public authorities must, in carrying out any statutory function which affects the Scottish marine area (out to 12 nautical miles), act in a way best calculated to further the achievement of ‘sustainable development’. Marine planning in Scotland applies to the exercise of both reserved and devolved functions from Mean High Water Springs out to 200 nautical miles. 

National Marine Plan

In accordance with the marine Acts, Scottish Ministers have prepared a National Marine Plan (Opens in a new window or downloads a file) (2015) which covers both the Scottish marine area (out to 12 nautical miles) and the UK marine area which is adjacent to Scotland (12 to 200 nautical miles). The National Marine Plan (NMP) contains objectives and policies for the sustainable development of key marine industries. It recognises that many marine activities require both marine and terrestrial components and also that marine activity has potential to impact on adjacent coastal areas, islands and communities through service provision and issues such as visual impact. 

The evidence base for the national marine plan is Scotland's Marine Atlas. Marine Scotland’s National Marine Plan Interactive (NMPi) is an online interactive mapping system which makes spatial data available to marine stakeholders in an easily accessible form. 

Regional Marine Planning 

The Scottish Government intends for RMPs to be prepared by Marine Planning Partnerships (MPPs) and for Island Local Authorities to lead MPPs in their areas. MPP powers do not include licensing or consenting; this remains the responsibility of consenting bodies, but they will be statutory consultees on marine licence applications.

The boundaries of the 11 Scottish Marine Regions were established by The Scottish Marine Regions Order 2015 (Opens in a new window or downloads a file). The regions extend from Mean High Water Springs out to 12 nautical miles. An illustrative map of the boundaries is below:

Figure 1: Scottish Marine Regions

To date, only Shetland and Clyde have progressed to formal MPP status and no RMPs have yet been adopted in Scotland.

In line with the OIOF agenda to empower island communities, the development of a streamlined Regional Marine Plan focused on key local issues remains a medium-long term goal of the Comhairle. Updates going forward will be reported on this page.

Marine and Terrestrial Planning Integration 

Marine Plan boundaries extend up to Mean High Water Springs. Terrestrial planning boundaries extend down to Mean Low Water Springs, with the exception of fish farming which extends out to 12 nautical miles. There is therefore an overlap of planning jurisdictions in the inter-tidal area and for aquaculture. To ensure that decision making is consistent, legislation require marine plans and development plans have regard to each other and that public authorities taking authorisation or enforcement decisions must do so in accordance with relevant Marine Plans, unless relevant considerations indicate otherwise. This includes decisions on terrestrial planning applications and enforcement. 

To view terrestrial planning policy for the Outer Hebrides please visit: Outer Hebrides Local Development Plan

Related Links 

Marine Fish Farming Development For information on Planning Policy, Planning Applications, Environmental Impact Assessment and Pre-application Advice. 

SiteLink (Opens in a new window or downloads a file) Provides easy access to data and information on key protected areas across Scotland ranging from sites of local natural heritage to designations of national and international importance.

Contact Information 

For further information please contact the Development Plan and Marine Planning team on 01851 822690 or 01870 604990 or e-mail