Regional Marine Licences - should your organisation apply?

Under the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 ("MCAA") a marine licence is required from the Marine Management Organisation ("MMO") for a wide range of 'licensable activities' up to the spring mean high tide mark. In river basins and estuaries this can cover a large area, with a marine licence required as far as the tide flows up river.

The scope of licensable activities covered by MCAA is huge and includes:

  • The construction, alteration or improvement of any works in or over the sea or on or under the seabed; and
  • The deposit or removal of any substance or object from the seabed.

Therefore it is not just new construction which requires a marine licence. Maintenance of existing infrastructure can also require a marine licence. A wide range of activities may be considered an 'alteration' or 'improvement' even though the person carrying out the activity may not consider it such. For example, is replacing a pipe or putting a new coat of paint on a building or piles an 'improvement'?

Examples of the type of activities which could be caught (unless an exemption applies) are:

  • Repairs to walls and banks;
  • Excavating any area below mean high water springs (including to mend or replace pipes, recovery anchor attachments, moorings etc.);
  • Pontoon refurbishment;
  • Maintenance of moorings;
  • Recoating and replacement of piles;
  • Building maintenance;
  • Erection of scaffolding;
  • Beach re-profiling (in certain circumstances).

Under the Marine Licensing (Exempted Activities) Order 2011 there are exemptions in place for some types of activity if certain criteria are met. However many of the more useful exemptions (Article 25A pontoons, Article 25 moorings, Article 23 harbour works) are restricted to harbour authority areas (or approaches) and therefore of limited use if the infrastructure is not situated within such an area.

Many large organisations (such as utility companies, life-saving organisations and multi-site marina operators) have  infrastructure located around the coast at multiple sites  which requires maintenance on a regular basis. Currently most organisations apply to the MMO for site specific maintenance licences, incurring delay and an application fee for each application.  However, it is possible to apply for a 10 year multi-site regional licence to cover foreseeable maintenance to all infrastructure in the region. Over the ten year period, this should save the organisation time and money. The procedure is so effective that the MMO are starting to encourage organisations such as utilities companies apply for regional licences.

Lara Moore is a leading marine licensing solicitor and has previously advised on regional licensing throughout England and Wales, including the successful grant of one of the first regional multi-site marine licences in the UK.

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