Scottish Government confirms it is scrapping HPMA plan

Mairi McAllan, Net Zero and Just Transition Secretary, Scottish Government

The Scottish Government’s plan to introduce highly protected marine areas covering a tenth of the country’s waters is dead – and that’s official.

The government has today confirmed that, following an extensive consultation on the proposal, the plan for highly protected marine areas (HPMAs) will not be taken forward.

Under the consultation, HPMAs would be zones in which no form of commercial activity is permitted, including all types of fisheries, aquaculture and offshore wind farms. The goal was to introduce HPMAs for 10% of Scotland’s territorial waters by 2026.

The HPMA plans had been agreed in principle as part of the Bute House Agreement between the Scottish National Party and the Scottish Greens, which forms the basis of the current governing coalition in Scotland, and were widely supported by environmental groups.

When consultation on the plans opened in December last year, however, there was widespread opposition from marine industries, coastal communities and even from within the SNP itself.

The latest announcement, in the form of the government’s response to the consultation, states: “In response to the findings of the consultation – in particular to the highly polarised nature of responses, significant concerns on impacts to coastal and island communities, as well as concerns over the proposed 10% target and 2026 timeline for delivery – the Scottish Government will no longer seek to implement the proposed policy as consulted on.

“This means HPMAs will not be introduced in 10% of Scottish seas by 2026 and the draft HPMA Policy Framework and draft Site Selection Guidelines, as consulted on, will not be finalised and published. Furthermore, the Scottish Government no longer intends to progress the establishment of new legal powers for introducing HPMAs in Scottish inshore waters through a Bill in the Scottish Parliament this parliamentary term.”

The response notes that the views received had been “highly polarised” with 55% in favour and 43% against. Many of the “pro” responses, however, been part of a single organised campaign, and when this is taken out of the equation the responses were 76% opposed to the HPMA proposals and 20% in favour.

Net Zero Secretary Màiri McAllan – the lead minister for the proposals – said: “In response to the findings of the consultation, and as I set out in Parliament earlier this year, the proposal to implement Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) across 10% of Scotland’s seas by 2026 will not be progressed.

“My thanks go to everyone who took the time to respond to the consultation and to those who have continued to engage constructively with me and other ministers over the summer. The government is firmly committed to protecting our marine environment and will continue to work closely with coastal communities and industries to protect Scotland’s seas for the benefit of all. As a priority this includes completing management measures for our existing Marine Protected Area (MPA) network and protecting our Priority Marine Features.

“I am determined to protect our oceans in a way that is fair, and to find a way forward that ensures our seas remain a source of prosperity for the nation, especially in our coastal and island communities.”

HPMAs have been introduced for England and Wales, albeit on a much more limited scale than that proposed in Scotland, and the concept is also supported in principle by the European Union.

Seafood sector leaders launched a petition against the HPMA proposals in 2023

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