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Marine Licensing and Planning

A marine licence is required for 'licensable activities' taking place up to the mean high water spring tide mark (including tidal estuaries, rivers and channels) unless an exemption applies.  The scope of 'licensable' activities includes the construction, alteration or improvement of any works in or over the sea or on or under the sea bed (which can include maintenance).  Carrying out a 'licensable activity' without a marine licence (or in breach of its conditions) can result in an unlimited fine or up to 2 years in prison.

Under the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 ('MCCA') the Marine Management Organisation ('MMO') is responsible for Marine Planning and Licensing in the English inshore and offshore areas and for marine licensing in Welsh and Northern Ireland offshore areas.  Natural Resources Wales ('NRW') has similar responsibilities in Wales in relation to the Welsh inshore areas.

Under MCAA, a marine licence is required for 'licensable activities' taking place up to the mean high water spring tide mark (including tidal estuaries, rivers and channels) unless an exemption applies.  In addition the scope of activities requiring a marine licence has been significantly widened and now includes:

  • Construction, alteration or improvement of any works in or over the sea or on or under the sea bed (this description can encompass the maintenance of existing works)
  • Dredging
  • Deposit, removal or incineration of any substance or object
  • Scuttling of any vessel or floating container

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy retains responsibility for some licensing and planning decisions in relation to oil, gas and larger offshore renewables projects.

Carrying out licensable activities without a marine licence or in breach of the conditions of a marine licence can result in an unlimited fine or up to two years in prison (for the most serious offences).  We have experience of successfully defending clients in relation to marine licensing enforcement action.  

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