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Planning for Sea Spaces I: Processes, Practices, and Future Perspectives

Planning Practice & Research


The aim of two themed issues on MSP, of which this is edition one, is to more firmly position the development of MSP in the core of spatial planning debates. MSP has been defined as ‘the public process analysing and allocating the spatial and temporal distribution of human activities in marine areas [and terrestrial areas] to achieve ecological, economic and social objectives that are usually specified through a political process.’ (Ehler & Douvere, 2009, p. 18). This is closely aligned with the process of terrestrial planning and the two face some similar challenges. MSP in practice demonstrates a high degree of variability influenced by national contexts, prevailing planning traditions and policy priorities. In broad terms, it is possible to distinguish between two distinct interpretations of the role of MSP. The primary task of MSP may be understood in terms of sea use regulation; the regulation of activities across marine space by means of zoning and use designation. Sea use regulation can provide a degree of certainty for economic actors and other interests and help to ensure consistency, coherence, and compatibility among sectoral plans. Plans of this nature are often legally binding while allowing for some discretion in decision-making on individual proposals. MSP may, however, also perform a strategic visioning role, establishing a coherent policy framework for future decision-making, based on a future-oriented policy vision. Strategic vision statements are key to realising the cross-sectoral, integrative ambitions of MSP and may help to identify potential synergies and points of intersection across policy sectors (Albrechts, 2010; Walsh & Kannen, 2019). As editors of this double-themed issues, we are convinced that the planning debate would profit hugely from engaging more with the contemporary experience in MSP, and vice-versa (see also Walsh, 2020). For terrestrial planning and for the contemporary academic planning discourse, the development of a new policy field and the emergence of planning practices in a short period of time provides a unique opportunity for reflection on how planning practices sit in existing administrative settings and are shaped by the transnational, connected EU context (Moodie et al., 2021), as well as by international influences. There are also practical reasons for closing the divide: the land–sea interface (LSI), i.e. the coast, tests the limits and boundaries of both planning regimes and is often covered inadequately by either (Walsh, 2021).

Application in MSP:
Type of Issue:
Type of practice:
Stage of MSP cycle:
Cross-border / trans-national aspect:
Coherence with other processes:
Key words:

Questions this practice may help answer:

  • What understandings of planning underpin MSP practices and shape the planning of sea space?
  • To what extent does MSP incorporate collaborative and participatory planning practices?
  • What are the key stakeholder groups and power distributions within these processes?
  • What challenges do the land–sea interface pose for spatial planning as a whole?
  • How are concepts such as seascape values or culturally significant sea space related to MSP?
  • Are new planning paradigms emerging from MSP experience?
  • What are the emergent challenges for practice and implementation?
  • Are there significant divergences or convergences between marine and terrestrial spatial planning?
  • What are the key opportunities for developing shared research agendas?

Implementation Context:

The idea for this special issue originated during a joint conference between the Association of European Schools of Planning Thematic Group ‘Transboundary Spaces, Policy Diffusion, Planning Cultures’ and the Marine Spatial Planning Research Network (MSPRN) in Hamburg 2019 (see also the conference report by Walsh (2020).

Aspects / Objectives:

The papers incorporated in these two themed issues begin to engage with these questions for planners in practice and research, covering a range of topics, allowing us to discuss implications for future research in the introduction of the second themed issue to come.



Main Outputs / Results:

The articles tackle fundamental questions on outlining the differences between terrestrial and maritime planning, the role of land–sea interaction in an era of climate change, as well as reflecting on the relationships between stakeholders both through the lens of conflict and the lens of community planning. Building on these debates, the second themed issue features articles with a focus on the specific challenge of collaborative governance practices and participation across states, as well as challenges and enablers of integration at the land–sea interface.


Articles from this special thematic issue can feed into MSP processes across Europe.

Responsible Entity:


Costs / Funding Source:


Contact person:

Cormac Walsh -