Today I am pleased to announce the launch of the public consultation on marine conservation zones (MCZs). The consultation will remain open until 31 March 2013.
This is a key step to meeting the Government’s commitment under the Marine and Coastal Access Act to create a network of marine protected areas in the UK to ensure that our marine biodiversity flourishes for years to come. These MCZs will complement 8.4% of UK waters and 24% of English inshore waters already within protected areas.
The consultation document explains that, following recommendations from four regional MCZ projects, and advice from the Government’s Statutory Nature Conservation Bodies, Natural England and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, we propose to designate 31 sites in 2013. It describes the approach we have taken in selecting the proposed sites for designation in the first tranche and how we propose to treat other MCZ recommendations from the regional projects. The consultation also provides clarification on a number of issues which have been controversial during the site identification process including:
reference areas—these will not be included in the first tranche but will be subject to further review;
treatment of MCZs at different stages in the designation process in licensing decisions—to assist developers in the marine area we have clarified how developments should be treated in or near MCZs so that economic growth is not inhibited unnecessarily;
the UK Administrations’ commitment to an ecologically coherent network—we have agreed with devolved Administrations in the UK that, biologically, a more sensible approach is to assess ecological coherence at a biogeographic zone level and to consider this commitment as a UK contribution to a wider ecologically coherent network. This will also meet UK commitments in OSPAR. Further MCZs are expected to be designated to contribute to this objective.
A key challenge has been the poor state of evidence in the marine environment. Every effort has been made to ensure that the selection of sites for the first tranche provides environmental benefits but does not go beyond what the evidence will support and does not unduly compromise coastal development.
In a number of cases where sites contain features that are rare or threatened and where there is some supporting evidence, we have proposed that these are designated in the first tranche in line with the precautionary principle.
The potential implications for business and Government of the proposals in this consultation have been considered in detail in an impact assessment which accompanies this consultation.
Today I am also laying the report to Parliament pursuant to section 124 of the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009. This summarises progress with forming a network of conservation sites to meet the requirements set out in the Act.