Written Statement: Review of Marine Licensing in Wales

Today, I have published a summary report detailing the key findings from an independent review of marine licensing in Wales, delivered by ICF Consulting. The review delivers recommendation 7a from the renewable energy deep dive.    

Marine Licences are issued by Natural Resources Wales (NRW) on behalf of the Welsh Ministers, the licensing authority for Welsh waters. I am committed to a consenting process that is fit for the future, supporting our net zero aspirations whilst ensuring our seas are clean and healthy. As a shared responsibility, NRW has a central role in delivering my expectations through a timely, proportionate and strengthened marine licensing process. A more streamlined process, however, does not mean bypassing vital legislative requirements in place to protect and enhance our marine environment.

The independent review by ICF Consulting has not identified any fundamental issues with the legislative marine licensing process and areas of good practice in NRW’s delivery has been recognised. However, the evidence presented does identify areas for improvements that I expect to see delivered. I have instructed my officials to work with NRW to strengthen the delivery of marine licensing through a series of priority actions. This will include actions such as better online services, clearer guidance and seeking greater focus on pre-application, especially for large scale and/or novel marine developments.

Developers also have an important role in achieving more timely decision making through the submission of good quality, robust applications. As evidenced by the review, where developers engage early to understand the licensing requirements, including potential timelines the licensing process can operate more efficiently. I also wish to see developers engaging early with key consultees and the local communities which host large marine infrastructure projects to ensure their views are considered early in project designs and opportunities for benefits can be secured.

A sound evidence base supports a more proportionate and timely licensing process. I wish to see a commitment from marine industries to work together to gather and share evidence and knowledge and to find opportunities to help enhance biodiversity as part of good project designs. At a time when we face multiple pressures including the climate and nature emergencies it has never been more important for us to work together to realise our shared goal, the sustainable development of the Welsh marine area.

A strengthened marine licensing process will support our commitment to tackling both the nature and climate emergencies. It will enable marine developments that support our net zero ambition, while protecting our beautiful natural environment for future generations.