Background to the assessment

The information presented in this Chapter is based on an interview with a Ministry of the Environment representative responsible for maritime spatial planning.

The use of the marine areas has previously been planned within the framework of regional land use plans and local master plans as well as various sector-specific action plans, including the National spatial plan for aquaculture, the National Marine Strategy, and coastal river basin management plans, among other things. In addition to these national plans, strategies and action plans for marine areas have also been prepared by the EU (including the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region, the Blue Growth Strategy and the Integrated Maritime Policy) and by HELCOM.

The Maritime Spatial Plan represents the first coordinated effort to plan the use of the marine areas in Finland’s territorial waters and exclusive economic zone as a whole. The obligation to produce maritime spatial plans is based on the Maritime Spatial Planning Directive (2014/89/EU), Chapter 8a of the Land Use and Building Act (132/1999) which implements this Directive, and the Government Decree on Maritime Spatial Planning (816/2016) which adds detail to it. The Member States have a binding obligation to produce maritime spatial plans under the European law. 

The objective of maritime spatial planning laid down in section 67a, subsection 1 of the Land Use and Building Act is promoting the sustainable development and growth of different forms of use, the sustainable use of marine resources, and the achievement of a good status of the marine environment. Maritime spatial planning seeks to achieve these objectives by reconciling the needs of different forms of use while making it possible to protect and even improve the status of the marine environment and ecosystems. These objectives have been translated into a more concrete form in such documents as the vision for the sustainable use of the Finnish marine area for 2050 and the objectives and roadmaps for the planning areas for 2030, which were produced as part of the maritime spatial planning process. The goals of maritime spatial planning are promoting a good status of the marine environment, creating maritime employment and promoting blue economic growth, including the generation of renewable energy and food production.

In legal terms, as the objective of maritime spatial planning can be regarded ensuring that maritime spatial plans have been drawn up in cooperation and within the set time limits, and that the contents of the plans meet the legal requirements; in other words, they have been drawn up for all the required areas and take into account all the planning sectors referred to in section 67a, subsection 2 of the Land Use and Building Act. Mining, the marine industries, blue biotechnology and cultural heritage were also addressed in the planning process.

Maritime spatial planning strives for consistency with other programmes, strategies and sector-specific plans related to the Baltic Sea. On the other hand, it has also turned out that various sector-specific plans and strategies may have conflicting objectives. While maritime spatial planning is unable to resolve such conflicts once and for all, it can be seen as a function that coordinates the use of these planning instruments. On the other hand, expectations of serving as an instrument that will prevent such conflicts in the future have been placed on maritime spatial planning. The preliminary work on maritime spatial planning legislation emphasises the fact that the general objective of maritime spatial planning is to coordinate different activities, to resolve conflicts and to promote blue growth. 

The Finnish Maritime Spatial Plans are general, strategic in nature and without legal effect. Their guiding effect on land use planning or permit processes for projects referred to in different sectoral acts is not binding. Maritime spatial planning is not part of the land use planning system referred to in the Land Use and Building Act, nor is it hierarchically above other planning instruments. Maritime spatial planning seeks to reconcile the land use needs of different sectors with the objectives of a good status of the marine environment. 

At this stage, the question of how the plans will affect different sectors of society and administrative processes remains partly unanswered. The plans’ overall effectiveness is expected to be realised in a more distant future. 

Rather than making binding land use reservations or striving to limit land use, maritime spatial planning starts from identifying in general terms sea areas with the greatest potential for the development of maritime sectors while supporting a good status of the marine environment. On the other hand, strategic maritime spatial planning can have at least a weak guiding effect on regional land use plans, for the very reason that the responsibility for preparing both maritime spatial plans and regional land use plans belongs to the Regional Councils. Similarly, it is likely that the Maritime Spatial Plans and the reports underpinning them will be taken into account as additional information in some permit processes, including wind farm construction or infrastructure projects in the Finnish exclusive economic zone. In addition, it is likely that the broad-based and versatile interactive process which involved the stakeholders during the preparation of the maritime spatial plans and the compilation of information for the process will have an impact on the stakeholders’ views of the potential for and feasibility of different project types and implementation methods and, by bringing stakeholders together, result in new forms of cooperation. In many respects, the attitudes of different stakeholders to the process have been experienced as positive and constructive, which probably is partly explained by the plans’ lack of legal effect. The preliminary work on the maritime spatial planning legislation also recognises the synergy benefits generated by interaction between the stakeholders, and one of the key objectives of the participatory procedures has been to ensure the stakeholders’ commitment to the plans. 

The mandate of this report did not include assessing how effectively the legislation implementing the Maritime Spatial Planning Directive promotes the Directive’s objectives. As the plans lack legal effect, it is unlikely that an ex-post evaluation of their implementation will be an appropriate indicator for their effectiveness. However, it is possible to assess in advance the extent to which, if the plans were to be realised, the content of the Maritime Spatial Plans would contribute to the objectives referred to in section 67a, subsection 1 of the Land Use and Building Act, or sustainable development and growth in different uses of the marine area, sustainable use of marine resources, and the achievement of a good status of the marine environment.

Sources

[1] HE 62/2016 vp, s. 7.

[2] HE 62/2016 vp, s. 7.