Marine aggregate development has to be supported by considerable amounts of information.
In the past, marine aggregate operators have operated independently of one another, only collecting the information that they require for their own interests. This means that there can be considerable overlap in data coverage, and inconsistencies in the methodologies and interpretations which make it virtually impossible to link them together.
With the requirement to consider wider scale cumulative and in combination effects, the ability to be able to place an individual site into a broader context has become essential.
As an industry, we have begun to address this by developing a voluntary Regional Environmental Assessment (REA) approach to determine regional scale context, sensitivities and impacts – in effect mirroring the site specific environmental impact assessment (EIA) process, but at a much larger scale.
The first marine aggregate REA (MAREA) undertaken by the industry was in the Eastern English Channel (completed in January 2003), and incorporated the interests of 6 operating companies and 10 new application areas. While the process falls outside of the formal decision making process, the outputs from the regional work are used to inform the site specific applications and their associated EIA’s.
For developers, this approach represents an opportunity to combine knowledge, and to adopt a more consistent and informed approach to assessing potential regional scale effects. It also allows data requirements to be identified at a scale which takes into account both site specific interests and the need for a regional view. In turn this increases survey efficiency by reducing duplication of effort and ensuring all data outputs are consistent with one another.
But the REA approach also provides benefits to regulators and their advisors. It improves the confidence and consistency in decision making at a site specific scale by providing a more robust regional overview – something that has been lacking in the past.
Further Marine Aggregate Regional Environmental Assessments (MAREAs) are now well underway in four additional regions (South coast, Thames, East coast and Humber). Commissioned by the industry, with support from The Crown Estate, these studies are underpinning a wider programme to renew a number of existing production licence areas by the end of 2013. They are intended to provide regional scale context to marine aggregate operations, reviewing potential cumulative and in-combination impacts and identifying areas of potential sensitivity. The outputs of the MAREA process will help to inform the site specific environmental impact process that will be required to inform decisions over licence renewals. In parallel with the regional assessments, industry is now also working with The Crown Estate to develop a blueprint for regional management and monitoring in conjunction with regulators and their advisors.
Further details of all the regional MAREA processes and their associated outputs can be found here