Developers embarking on pursuing consents for an offshore project would be forgiven for feeling like they are wading through plans - existing, at consultation stage and proposed.

For those operating in the marine and offshore sectors, the fourth National Planning Framework ("NPF4") isn't the only plan undergoing an updating exercise at the moment.

The National Marine Plan (2015) ("NMP") is also due to be reviewed with the aim of producing the National Marine Plan 2 ("NMP2") in time for adoption in 2025.

In line with statutory monitoring and reporting obligations, the NMP has been reviewed twice before albeit this is the first wholesale review since its adoption in 2015. This updating exercise is being driven by the outcome of the previous review published in 2021, which emphasised the urgent need to tackle the twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss. In addition, there is a clear need to update NMP to reflect the significant changes in the wider policy and legislative landscape, along with rapid developments in technology.

NMP2 is also intended to be a key delivery mechanism of the Scottish Government's 'Blue Economy Vision for Scotland', published in March 2022, which sets out a new approach that puts environmental and societal issues on a more equal footing with economic interests.

The Blue Economy Vision makes it clear that "a transition from ‘environment versus economic growth’ (the prevailing status quo in Scotland and globally) to ‘shared stewardship’ of natural capital that is facing common pressures" is required.

The aim is "to achieve a triple bottom line where ambitious economic, social and environmental objectives can be progressed in balance with a clear emphasis on building a wellbeing economy that promotes sustainability, prosperity, innovation, resilience and inclusion".

On first reading, it is not clear how marine developments, particularly offshore renewables, will fare when assessed against the 'triple bottom line' but reassuringly the Vision goes on to say:

"Statutory obligations for a just transition to a net-zero society by 2045 (75% by 2030) will require transformation in our use of the sea and decarbonisation across marine sectors and supply chains, including an energy transition with expansion in offshore renewables, carbon capture and storage and hydrogen".

Broadly, then, we can expect NMP2 to be supportive of offshore renewables and likely to a greater extent than is seen in the current NMP.

NPF4 also remains highly relevant to marine developments, particularly those in the renewable energy sector. NPF4 represents the Scottish Ministers' strongest commitment to date to achieving 'net zero' through national planning policy.

The key policy is Policy 11. Its intent is stated to be: "to encourage, promote and facilitate all forms of renewable energy development onshore and offshore. This includes energy generation, storage, new and replacement transmission and distribution infrastructure and emerging low-carbon and zero emissions technologies including hydrogen and carbon capture utilisation and storage".

Policy 11 goes on to say, in considering the environmental impacts of proposed development: "significant weight will be placed on the contribution of the proposal to renewable energy generation targets and on greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets".

While NPF4 is not directly applicable to marine areas, the acknowledgement of the role of on-shore development in facilitating off-shore renewable energy development will likely be critical to overall project delivery in the long-term.


Particularly for those with ScotWind options for seabed leases, there is unlikely to be the flexibility in project timetables to postpone submitting applications for consent pending the finalising of NMP2.

While the enhanced support for renewable energy in NPF4 should go some way to boosting applicants' confidence, there will inevitably be a degree of nervousness that the broader support for offshore renewables that is anticipated in NMP2 does not necessarily translate to assist each individual development.

Applications – whether for marine or terrestrial development – are often far from plain-sailing but certainly, at this particular juncture, greater clarity on future national marine policy would go a long way to easing the process.

We await with interest the first round of consultation with stakeholders on NMP2, anticipated in early 2023, and full public consultation on a draft NMP2 then expected to commence in Spring 2024.


Victoria Lane

Senior Associate