Skip to main content
European Commission logo

Independent investigation in marine spatial planning: necessary or discretionary?



Public Inquiry is an established process for effective testing and scrutiny of plans in terrestrial planning and is regarded as a means of providing credibility and accountability. Independent Investigation is its marine equivalent and was included as a provision in the UK marine planning regime and subsequent legislation since its inception. However, it has been noticeably absent in practice. This paper investigates the reasons behind this situation within the context of the proposed and actual role of II in the marine planning process in the UK. It additionally considers the future use of II in enhancing the quality and effectiveness of the marine planning system. This paper concludes that as the use of the marine resource of the UK becomes increasingly contested and controversial, II could be utilized to enhance marine plans and marine planning decisions and thus warrants further investigation.

Application in MSP:
Type of Issue:
Type of practice:
Cross-border / trans-national aspect:
Key words:
Implementation Context:

This study was conducted as the last UK regional marine plans were to be adopted.

Aspects / Objectives:

The aim of the study was to address the issue of whether Independent Investigations in MSP are necessary or discretionary.


The approach was designed around three key stages. The first was a content analysis of policy documents which contained an explicit reference to Independent Investigations. The second stage of the research examined existing arrangements for Independent Investigations, or the equivalent, in the terrestrial and the marine environment across the UK and devolved administrations. The final stage of the process consisted of a series of seventeen semi-structured interviews with UK stakeholders.

Main Outputs / Results:

This article has identified how the concept of Independent Investigations in the marine planning process was inherited from terrestrial planning as an integral part of the plan-making process. It reveals two further points of interest. Firstly, that in the process of developing marine planning, there is little evidence that the merits of Independent Investigations were ever discussed in-depth, or that the presence of an Independent Investigation stage in the process was ever questioned. Secondly, that the dismissal of the Independent Investigation, as an integral part of marine plan formulation, seems to have occurred without any apparent justification. In short, it argues that unlike its terrestrial counterpart, the Independent Investigation has been articulated as a discretionary requirement in MSP in the UK.


Although the authors note that  it could be argued that the lack of Independent Investigations has built up trust and thus facilitated the delivery of the first tranche of marine plans, they also stress that the use of Independent Investigations in the future, as marine plans mature, could enhance the quality and effectiveness of marine plans and marine planning decisions. This is undoubtedly applicable to all European Member-States.

Responsible Entity:

Belfast School of Architecture and the Built Environment, Ulster University, Newtownabbey, UK

Contact person:

Heather Ritchie: (h[dot]ritchie[at]ulster[dot]ac[dot]uk)