News & Views

Maritime Spatial Plan for Finland – Impacts for Offshore Wind Power

4 November 2020

Authors: Noora Britschgi, Klaus Metsä-Simola and Paavo Romakkaniemi

Our new blog post discusses certain topical questions related to maritime area plan, which is currently, for the first time, being prepared for the Finnish sea area. The purpose of maritime spatial planning is to promote the sustainable development and growth of the different uses of the maritime area, sustainable use of natural resources, and achievement of a good status of the marine environment.

What are maritime spatial plans?

Maritime spatial planning is based on the EU’s Maritime Spatial Planning Directive (2014/89/EU), which was implemented in Finland by the Land Use and Building Act (132/1999) and in Åland by the Water Act (61/1996).

In Finland, the eight (8) coastal regions are developing plans covering the Gulf of Finland, the Archipelago Sea and the Southern Bothnian Sea, and the Northern Bothnian Sea, the Quark and the Bay of Bothnia. At the end of the process, the plans will be combined into an overall plan, which in addition to the territorial waters covers the Finnish exclusive economic zone. Moreover, the Åland’s Regional Government draws up its own maritime spatial plan. The maritime spatial plan will be updated every ten (10) years.

What is the role of maritime spatial planning?

The EU legislation allows the maritime spatial plans to be implemented either as binding or non-binding instruments. Consequently, the Member States have the power to decide whether a plan has legal effect.

In Finland, the maritime spatial plan is a non-binding strategic and general plan. The plan does not regulate zoning or project licensing under different sectoral laws in a binding manner. Moreover, maritime spatial planning is not part of the land use planning system and does not take precedence over other planning instruments under the Finnish Land Use and Building Act. Maritime spatial planning seeks to reconcile the areal needs of different operations, such as those of the energy sector, maritime transport, recreational activities, and nature conservation, with an objective of obtaining a good environmental status in the marine environment.

How does maritime spatial planning impact offshore wind farm projects?

The maritime spatial plan includes the identification of potential wind power areas. However, it is to be noted that as the plan does not have a binding role in the Finnish system, offshore wind farm projects are possible also in areas which have not been designated for such purposes in the maritime spatial plan. For example the Finnish Wind Farm Association has required the role of the maritime spatial plans to be clarified in this respect in order to avoid situations, where the maritime spatial plan would result in difficulties in obtaining wind farm permits in areas other than those set out in the plan. In general, we expect the maritime spatial plans to promote offshore wind farm development at least in the designated areas.

In addition to maritime spatial planning, offshore wind farm projects will also in the future require municipal partial master planning and building permitting in the Finnish territorial waters and Governmental permitting in the Finnish’s exclusive economic zone. In Åland, the permitting authorities are mainly the Regional Government and the municipalities.

What are the next steps?

The draft maritime spatial plan and the key preparation materials have been on display in the summer 2020. After the summer, the draft maritime spatial plan proposal has been updated based on the statements and general feedback given on the initial draft. The administrative authorities of each coastal regional council are expected to approve the plan in terms of their own jurisdictions between November and December 2020. In Åland, there will be a second hearing before the end of year 2020, but the plan is aimed to be approved by Åland’s Regional Government on 31 March 2021 at the latest. Our Environment and Natural Resources team is closely following the aforementioned development and will gladly discuss any related questions.