Licensing and regulation
The marine aggregate industry is licensed commercially by The Crown Estate, which owns the seabed to the 12-mile territorial limit and holds the non-energy mineral rights out to 200 miles as part of the hereditary possessions of the Sovereign. Under The Crown Estate Act 1961, The Crown Estate Commissioners have a duty to maintain and enhance the value of the estate’s assets and to secure revenue from them. In the case of minerals, it receives a royalty for every tonne extracted from licensed areas. In 2010-11, turnover from marine aggregates totalled £15.5 million, with the net revenue surplus being paid to the Exchequer.
The Crown Estate are able to issue a production agreement to an operator for marine aggregate extraction which is based on commercial terms, following a successful tendering and prospecting process. However, the production agreement will only be issued once the operator has obtained a Marine Licence under the Marine Works (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations 2007 as amended in 2011 (MWR). The regulatory process is administered by the Marine Management Organisation, the Welsh Government, the Scottish Executive or, the Northern Ireland Executive, according to the location.
The MWR were amended following the introduction of the Marine and Coastal Access Act in 2009, and consolidated and replaced a number of previous statutory controls – including the Environmental Impact Assessment and Natural Habitats (Extraction of Minerals by Marine Dredging) (England and Northern Ireland) Regulations 2007 (the Marine Minerals Regulations). The new regulations enact the requirements of both the EC Environmental Impact Assessment and Habitats Directives as they apply to marine minerals extraction.
The regulatory process is transparent, and applicants will typically engage in wide-ranging pre-application consultation and discussions with a wide range of stakeholders and interested parties to identify the issues that need to be addressed by an environmental impact assessment. Further consultation will then be undertaken using the draft environmental statement and supporting studies to identify any outstanding issues of concern, with the applicant taking steps to resolve these through appropriate management, mitigation and monitoring.
Once the pre-application discussions are complete, the final environmental statement and supporting studies are submitted to the regulator as a formal application. The regulator is then required to formally consult on the final application, as well as to publicly advertise the proposals.
If the environmental consequences are considered acceptable at the end of this process, and the application is in accordance with existing Government policy (including any marine plans which may be in place), the regulator can issue a Marine Licence. The licence can allow marine aggregate extraction to take place for a maximum period of 15 years, and will be accompanied by a comprehensive set of conditions which will define the operating terms of the licence (tonnage, term and area), together with any site specific management, mitigation and monitoring requirements. Integral to these conditions is the requirement for the regulator to undertake a substantive review of the licence and its associated conditions every five years.