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Section 158 of the Government of Wales Act 2006 (GoWA 2006) provides that 'Wales' includes the sea adjacent to Wales as far out as 12 nautical miles measured from coastal baselines (known as the 'Inshore Region'). Accordingly, within the Inshore Region Senedd Cymru has legislative competence, subject to section 108A of GoWA 2006.
The Welsh Ministers exercise a wide range of functions in relation to both the Inshore Region and Offshore Region. In broad terms the Offshore Region is any area beyond the Inshore Region but the precise extent will vary depending on the regime. Some of the more important functions and their area of application include (this is not an exhaustive list):
- Marine planning
- Marine licensing/permitting
- Environmental quality and protection.
Pursuant to Part 3 of the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 the Welsh Ministers are the marine plan authority. The Welsh Ministers have the power (and in some cases a duty) to prepare a marine plan for an area consisting of the whole or any part of their marine planning region. A marine plan is a document which, amongst other things, states the authority’s policies for the sustainable development of the relevant area. The Welsh Ministers' marine planning functions extend to the Inshore Region and Offshore Region. The Offshore Region means so much of the Welsh Zone as lies beyond the Inshore Region. The Welsh Zone is defined by reference to section 158(1) Government of Wales Act 2006 (GoWA 2006) and is the sea adjacent to Wales within British fishery limits and specified in an order under section 53 or section 158(3) of GoWA 2006. The Secretary of State's consent is required for Offshore plans and for Inshore plans if they concern functions retained by the Secretary of State.
The Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 (MCAA 2009) establishes a marine licensing and enforcement regime under which the Welsh Ministers are the appropriate licensing authority and enforcement authority. The majority of these licensing functions are delegated to Natural Resources Wales (NRW) pursuant to a delegation order made under section 98 of MCAA 2009, while the enforcement functions are retained by the Welsh Ministers. The Welsh Ministers' have the power to direct NRW in respect of delegated licensing functions. The Welsh Ministers' functions are limited to the Inshore Region and do not extend to petroleum and defence activities.
Whilst not strictly a marine regime, the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2010 extend to the Inshore Region. NRW is the determining and enforcement body for the purpose of environmental permitting in Wales, though the Welsh Ministers have the power to direct NRW; they can require that an application is referred to them for determination and have appellate functions. The Welsh Ministers also have the power to issue guidance.