Maritime spatial planning
Many people are amazed when they discover that the sea is anything but an empty space. Marine space is shaped by different uses. The steadily growing utilisation of marine space, mainly due to economic interests such as the expansion of wind energy, is creating a high pressure. Maritime spatial planning plays a decisive role to balance the competing interests of business, science and the environment. It is a forward-looking planning instrument that coordinates user interests and nature protection.
Maritime spatial plan 2021 entered into force
On 11 June 2019, the Federal Ministry of the Interior, Building and Community (BMI), with the support of the Federal Maritime and Hydrographic Agency (BSH), started the revision process of the maritime spatial plans. Following an extensive process that included national and international consultation, the new maritime spatial plan came into force on 1 September 2021.
Task of maritime spatial planning
For a long time, the sea was not a space for industrial use on a large scale. The sea was mostly regarded as a predominantly open and untouched space, especially in comparison to the mainland. However, taking a closer look, one will soon notice that the German territorial sea, which extends up to 12 nm off the coast, as well as the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), which adjoins the territorial sea up to 200 nm, are under high pressure of utilisation.
Traditional uses such as shipping and fishing have been shaping the maritime space for decades. Many other uses such as sand and gravel mining, gas extraction, laying of undersea pipelines and cables, research and military exercises as well as the very rapidly growing wind energy at sea have been added over the years, and are generating a constantly growing pressure. The diverse economic uses can lead to conflicts among each other as well as with the goals of environmental protection and nature conservation. The North Sea and Baltic Sea represent an important habitat for important mammal, fish and bird species as well as for a large number of terrestrial organisms, which require protection.
In order to balance the interests between business, science and the environment, maritime spatial planning acts as a forward-looking planning instrument that regulates the ever-increasing intensity of uses and coordinates user interests and protection claims.
As high-level planning, it aims at recording all (planned) human activities at sea, minimising existing conflicts and preventing future problems. Furthermore, it serves to protect the marine environment and nature by placing restrictions on human activities. When defining areas, it ensures, for example, that safety distances are maintained in order to avoid accidents with consequences for people and nature. Last but not least, maritime spatial planning serves to implement political goals. This includes, amongst others, the statutory expansion of renewable energies in support of the national transformation of the energy production.
A special feature of maritime spatial planning, in contrast to land-based spatial planning, is the consideration of the planning space in its three dimensions. The different levels, such as sea surface, water column, seabed or airspace each have special use and protection requirements. On the one hand, this leads to a wider range of area regulations, on the other hand it increases the potential that specific uses are mutually incompatible.