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Section 2. Consents for Coastal Development and Works

This page is designed to give applicants wishing to undertake work around the coast a summary of the different types of coastal consents that may be needed, additional factors to consider and links to more information. The two main types of development consent required for coastal or marine works are planning permission for infrastructure to the boundary jurisdiction of the local planning authority (LPA) (generally above the Mean Low Water Mark (MLWM)) and a Marine Licence for works below Mean High Water Springs (MHWS). For developments taking place in the intertidal zone or across the land/sea boundary, for example a slipway, both planning permission and a Marine Licence will be required. The LPA jurisdiction can extend into main rivers and estuaries, for example on the River Hamble, so planning permission from the LPA may also be needed for marine works where this occurs. The two systems work independently of each other and are administered by local planning authorities and the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) respectively. The coastal concordat sets out how regulatory bodies can co-ordinate the separate processes for coastal development consents in England. In addition to these there are usually several other important permissions, summarised below.

What consents are covered in this section?


The information in this page is for guidance only, it has no legal basis and specific queries should always be directed to the consenting authority.

Pre Application Advice

You can get environmental advice about your development proposal early in the planning process. Natural England, the Environment Agency and the Marine Management Organisation can all tell you about environmental issues and help you to deal with them.

Marine Licence

The marine licensing system under the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 (MCAA) has been in force since 6 April 2011. The Marine Management Organisation (MMO) is responsible for marine licensing in English inshore and offshore areas. The inshore areas include any area which is submerged at mean high water spring tide up to the territorial limit. They also include the waters of every estuary, river or channel where the tide flows at mean high water spring tide. Even waters in areas which are closed permanently or intermittently by a lock or other artificial means against the regular action of the tide are included, where seawater flows into or out from the area. The offshore areas include waters beyond the territorial limit in so far as they comprise the exclusive economic zone and the UK sector of the continental shelf. It also includes the bed and subsoil of the sea within those areas. The MMO will provide up to two hours free pre-application advice to applicants.  You can apply for the licence online on the MMO website. Applications are dealt with using the MMO Marine Case Management System

A Marine Licence constitutes a statutory consent; its terms and conditions must be complied with in full and are also binding upon any agent or subcontractor who undertakes the activity on behalf of an applicant. Applicants can appeal within six months of the issue of a licence against a decision made on the application; this can include an appeal against the inclusion of any provision within the licence or the length of licence granted; see the the Marine Licensing (Licence Application Appeals) Regulations 2011. The MMO does not issue retrospective licences; if someone undertakes unlicensed works then it would refer this to its enforcement team to investigate. Use the MMO Public Register of Marine Licences to look at current and past applications. This is helpful to see what type of information the MMO require for the submitting of an application for a Marine Licence. You should also view the MMO page on Service Standards for timescales for the various stages of licence processing. Fees are published on the MMO website.

Marine non-licensable activities are those which do not require a marine licence. These include shore based activities such as bait collection and beach recreation as well as water based activities such as sailing and motor boating.

There are three types of Marine Licence, the nature of your proposal will determine which you need to use:

  1. Self service
  2. Full 
  3. Exempt

There are six categories of activities that may need a licence. These are:

  1. Construction, alteration or improvement
  2. Dredging
  3. Deposits - Under section 66 of the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009, moorings may require a marine licence as they are 'deposits on the seabed'.
  4. Incineration of any substance or object
  5. Removal of any substance or object. For example, the installation, maintenance and removal of both temporary seasonal moorings and permanent moorings would require an application to the MMO for determination.
  6. Scuttling of any vessel or floating container

What is Self Service Licensing?

The MMO classes a number of activities as low risk because they are sufficiently consistent in nature and extent. In specific circumstances these activities are not subject to the standard marine licensing process, instead they might qualify for a self-service marine licence. This licence costs a fixed fee of £50. The marine case management system (MCMS) contains an assistance tool which helps applicants to self-assess their activity. Activities which meet the criteria can obtain an instant consent – ‘a self-service marine licence’.

Examples of activities that could qualify for self service licensing are:

Examples of Licence Conditions

Marine Licences and Marine Plans

The MMO considers proposed works against the relevant Marine Plan policies through a marine plan assessment, to see if the proposal is compliant with the relevant policies in the area. This could include assessments against policies focussing on water quality, enhancing coastal habitats, and minimising waste from dredging activities.

Marine Licenses and Maintenance Dredging

Section 75 of the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 provides an exemption for dredging or the disposal of dredged material carried out by or on behalf of a harbour authority in certain circumstances. Further information about the exemption and the qualifying criteria which must be met can be found in the exemptions guidance. There is an exemption for low volume dredging in certain circumstances. A licence may not be needed if the low-volume dredging meets the conditions specified in the exemptions guidance. All other navigational dredging applications are subject to the full marine licensing process.

The MMO do provide an accelerated licensing for dredging. If your dredging activity is between 500 and 3,000 cubic metres a campaign, and less than 10,000 cubic metres a year, it may be processed with a 10-working-day consultation.

Before you apply for a marine licence, a sediment sampling plan must be agreed with the MMO in consultation with the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas). The sample plan will set out the sample locations as well as the specific biological, chemical and physical analysis requirements. A marine licence to dispose of dredged materials to sea requires the sediments to be characterised to allow the potential adverse environmental effects of disposing of the material to be considered.

What is the Maintenance Dredge Protocol?

Dredging activities need to be assessed for potential impacts on Marine Protected Areas (MPA), the Maintenance Dredging Protocol for England (MDP) seeks to improve this assessment process for licence applications by the production of baseline documents.  A baseline document should bring together all relevant, readily available, current and historical data on dredging activities. This helps authorities assess maintenance dredging activities and identify any likely significant effect, taking into account in-combination effects of dredging proposals. It must analyse the potential effects (if any) that dredging activities could have on the features of MPAs. View the draft MDP for Southampton Water

Marine Licence Exemptions

Together the exemptions orders 2013 and 2011 list 34 activities which may be exempt from requiring a marine licence.

  1. Exemptions for which no notification is required
  2. Exemption which require notification to be given to the MMO
  3. Exemptions which require approval from the MMO

In addition there is an exemption in Section 75 of the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 for certain dredging activities, or the disposal of dredged material carried out by or on behalf of a harbour authority.

Maintenance Work

If you are undertaking work to maintain or refurbish an existing structure you should check with the MMO to determine whether or not a Licence is required. Licences are normally only required for works or activities that 'construct, alter or improve'. 

I represent a Harbour Authority, do I need a Marine Licence to carry out minor works in my Harbour?

A licence is not required for the deposit, removal or works activity carried on by or on behalf of a harbour authority for the purpose of maintaining any harbour works. The exemption is subject to the condition that the activity is carried out within the existing boundaries of the works being maintained.

What is the Position with Fishing and Marine Licensing?

Under Article 12 of the 2011 order a licence is not required in respect of activities carried out in the course of a fishing operation:

Marine Plans and Marine Licensing

Marine licensing decisions must be taken in accordance with appropriate marine policy documents such as Marine Plans. Marine Plans interpret and present the national policies within the Marine Policy Statement and apply area specific policies. The Solent lies within the South Marine Plans area. Marine Plans must be used for all planning decisions for the sea, coast, estuaries and tidal waters (which sometimes extend a long distance inland), as well as developments that impact these areas, such as infrastructure. All public authorities are also responsible for implementing the South Marine Plan through existing regulatory and decision-making processes.

Sediment Sampling of the Seabed

Applications for marine licences which require analysis for chemical, physical and biological determinands must have an associated sample plan agreed in advance by the MMO. From 1 April 2018, the MMO only accepts requests and provides responses for sample plans to applicants through its Marine Case Management System (MCMS) online portal.

Case Studies

Planning Permission

Most new buildings or major changes to existing buildings or to the local environment on land need consent, this is known as planning permission.  Section 55 of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1990 defines what development is and hence whether planning permission is required. It is required for any development that falls within the Local Planning Authorities (LPA) jurisdiction, this is normally land above the mean low water (MLWM) but some LPAs boundaries do go out across rivers and estuaries; you may therefore need planning permission for works within a river or estuary, contact your LPA for advice. The LPA is responsible for deciding whether a development should go ahead; use the Solent Forum Directory to find your relevant LPA.  New Forest District Council have a comprehensive checklist of all the information you may need to submit as part of a planninbg application.

For developments that cross the land/sea boundary the LPA and MMO will take a decision as to who should be the lead authority for the application depending on the exact nature of the proposals. The MMO have produced a Guide for LPAs that details what LPAs need to consider when applying for a Marine Licence.

Applicants should view the local planning documents applicable to the site pre-application and ask the LPA for details of any relevant studies that may have been published, for example, on slope stability.  These documents will show what types of development are likely to be permitted at a location and are available to view at the planning department of the LPA.  You may also wish to speak to a local planning officer if you have queries, there is sometimes a charge for this service. Another source of information is the The National Planning Policy Framework which sets out the government’s planning policies for England and how these are expected to be applied.

Do I need planning permission for repair or replacement to existing infrastructure?

The replacement of existing infrastructure (rather than repair) is likely to require planning permission, particularly if the work improves or alters the existing infrastructure. Local planning authorities regularly receive applications for replacement piles, slipways and pontoons where there jurisdiction extends into a river or estuary. Repair works such as essential maintenance or, for example, the resurfacing of an existing slipway are unlikely to require permission.

Local authorities have different definitions on what constitutes repair and what constitutes replacement. You must check out the definitions with your local planning authority and where their boundary jurisdiction lies before commencing work.

I want to build a new jetty - do I need planning permission?

Planning permission will be required if any part of the jetty infrastructure is within the local planning authority's area of jurisdiction. Subsequent maintenance activity will not require planning permission. But if you alter or improve the jetty in the future you will need to apply for planning permission once again. If you construct a building on the jetty, you will also need to obtain Building Regulations approval.

As the jetty will go out beyond MHWS you will also require a Marine Licence from the MMO (amongst other permissions).

Permitted Development

You can make certain types of minor changes to structures without needing to apply for planning permission. These are called "permitted development rights". They derive from a general planning permission granted by Parliament. The Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 1995 details what is considered to be permitted development, for example, new works on industrial land subject to a height limit of 15m that do not materially affect the outside appearance. Such permissions are still subject to the the Conservation (Natural Habitats, & c.) Regulations 1994. In some 'designated areas', such as conservation areas permitted development rights are more restricted. Your local planning authority will advise on whether your plans are considered to be permitted development or will need planning permission; permitted development can still be subject to conditions, limitations and exceptions. Many of the conditions require prior submission of a notice of intent to carry out the development, to enable the planning authority to control certain aspects of the development, such as siting or design. For developments in European Marine Sites (most of the Solent) if developers are uncertain whether their proposal is likely to have a significant effect on the site,it is advisable to seek an opinion from Natural England.

Some coastal landowners have permissive development rights for privately owned coastal defences. Please refer to the 'North Solent Shoreline Management Plan Information Note for landowners, planners and developers on privately owned coastal defences' for more information.

Planning Appeals

The Planning appeals process is designed for anyone who has applied to their council or national park authority for planning permission, but is unhappy with the resulting decision, or the lack of a decision. The appeals page on the government's planning pages will tell you how to go about appealing a decision.

Building Regulations

Building Regulations are required for the erection of new buildings, the material change of use of a building or for the extension or modification of existing buildings or their services.  Planning rules determine whether you are allowed to go ahead with a building project and Building Regulations set standards for the design and construction of buildings to ensure the safety and health for people in or about those buildings.  Meeting the requirements of the Building Regulations is the responsibility of the person carrying out the building work and, if they are not the same person, the owner of the building.  They are required for coastal developments that are wholly or partly located above mean low water (MLWM). This is the local planning authority boundary. Applicants need to contact the Building Control section of the local planning authority in the first instance.

Building consent is not needed for structures below the MLWM, except for buildings on piers. However the LPA does have powers to take action against structures such as pontoons that it deems unsafe.

Planning Portal

The Planning Portal is the Government’s official planning website. Every local authority in England and Wales accepts planning applications via the Planning Portal. In this Portal you can make an application for a range of consents, learn how to apply and view and continue with applications you have already started. You can also make an application directly to the LPA and this is advised for those more complex projects that will have lots of files and documents of supporting evidence.

Planning Permission and Coastal Defence Work

In general, planning permission would not be needed for works of maintenance or minor works required to enable continued use of existing structures while they are structurally sound. However, new construction works, or works of improvement (such as increasing the height, width or length of the defences), demolition or removal of defences will almost certainly require planning permission and may require various other consents and licences depending upon the type, location and timing of the proposed work. The General Development Order 1995, does allows new works on industrial land subject to a height limit of 15m and that do not materially affect the outside appearance.

Coastal Change Management Areas 

These are areas identified in Local Plans as likely to be affected by coastal change (physical change to the shoreline through erosion, coastal landslip, permanent inundation or coastal accretion). When assessing applications, authorities consider development in such areas appropriate where it is demonstrated that, it will be safe over its planned lifetime, will not have an unacceptable impact on coastal change, the character of the coast including designations is not compromised and the development provides wider sustainability benefits.


Houseboats fall outside of planning control unless moored for so long in the same place that they can be regarded as bringing about a material change of use of land. The permanent mooring of a boat for residential purposes, where there was not one previously, is likely to be a material change of use of land and planning permission would, therefore, generally be required. Similarly, works associated with the mooring of the boat might require planning permission if they amount to operational development. With regards to shoreside ancillary infrastructure, for which a houseboat is reliant on, this will require planning permission (if it hasn't already been consented/existing as a houseboat mooring). Ultimately, it is for the local planning authority to decide whether planning permission is required. Flood Defence Consent may also be required for mooring fixings, ask the Environment Agency to advise.

Hazardous Sites

There are several major industrial installations around the Solent coast and the Health and Safety Executive can advise that planning permission should be refused for development for, at or near to a hazardous installation or pipeline, or that hazardous substances consent should be refused.

Other Permissions

In addition to the main two types of consent required for development in the coastal zone (planning permission and Marine Licence) there are certain other permissions that may well be required. These are explained below.

Harbour Works

Harbour Authorities grant licences to construct, alter, renew or extend works within the harbour up to the mean high water springs mark.  Works should not affect rights of navigation or other public rights.  The licences are granted under the relevant Harbour Act or Harbour Order which are unique to each harbour. Applicants must contact their Harbour Authority and gain a licence before the commencement of work.  For the contact details of Harbour Authorities in the Solent please use the Solent Forum Directory.

The Harbours of the Solent are managed by a variety of different organisations, some are privately owned, others are Trust Ports and one is managed by a Local Authority. The Harbour Authorities that manage them all have different roles and responsibilities, based on the specific legislation that gives them their powers under their individual Harbour Acts or Orders. Applicants must therefore contact their local harbour authority to see whether the works they wish to undertake requires Harbour Works consent. This is particularly the case for small scale works and repair or replacement work as different local circumstances can apply. Harbour Authorities are also a good source of information and advice and can assist developers and those wishing to undertake works in helping to tailor their application for local conditions.

Case study: River Hamble

The majority of works within the River Hamble Harbour Authority's jurisdiction require Harbour Works Consent. This consent is considered by the River Hamble Harbour Management Committee which then advises the River Hamble Harbour Board before the Board make the final decision. A public online consultation is held for each application for Harbour Works Consent which goes before the Board and this allows interested parties to have their say. The Harbour Board will consider the potential impacts of the works upon safety and ease of navigation and the environment when making their decision. The cost of this consent will depend on the size of the project.

Maintenance works and replacement of structures on a like-for-like basis are consented under the Harbour Masters delegated powers. This means that an application does not have to go before the River Hamble Harbour Management Committee and Harbour Board and so there is a reduced application fee. For very small maintenance works, consent is not required. The Harbour Authority recommend that people contact the harbour office for advice before undertaking any work.

Additional Resources

Landowner Consent

A landowner's permission/consent will nearly always be required for any activity that disturbs the land or affects the owner's potential use of their land.  The Crown Estate owns approximately fifty percent of UK foreshore, defined as being between mean low and mean high water, and almost all of the sea bed below mean low water.  Examples of other owners are Local Authorities, Port Authorities, Defence Estates, National Trust and private individuals.  The Crown Estate requires that all other necessary consents are obtained before it will issue landowner consent, however it is happy to receive applications whilst other consents are still being processed.  The Crown Estate's Managing Agent for the Solent region is Chesterton Humberts based in Southampton and they are the first point of call for Crown Estate licences and leases in the Solent.

Land Registry searches can be made for the foreshore in the same way that they are made for land.  There are some large scale plans of Crown Estate ownership.  It is usually not possible to search on the sea bed as it cannot be registered.

The main exceptions to the above are activities that rely on the public rights of fishing and navigation.  Anchoring may also be excluded when carried out in the course of navigation, but moorings will require landowner consent.

What are Mooring Leases?

The Crown Estate grants a block lease or licence to a mooring body, such as a harbour authority, boat club or fairways committee for moorings. These bodies provide local administration and sometimes the mooring tackle and other facilities and make appropriate charges to the boat owners. Boat owners pay the local market rate for a mooring, which depends on a number of factors such as the type of mooring, the length of boat and location. This fee is paid to the mooring operator. The mooring operator pays a ground rent to the Crown Estate for the right to lay the moorings.

Wildlife Licencing and Enforcement

The MMO is responsible for issuing Wildlife Licences for activities that that would affect a UK or European protected marine species and the enforcement of wildlife legislation in the English and offshore Welsh marine area. Legislation includes the consent of wildlife licences under sections 9 and 10 of MCAA, the Conservation of Seals Act (1970), the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981), the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations (2010) and the Offshore Marine Conservation Regulations (2007). The legislation exists to protect marine species and habitats from offences related to intentional taking, injuring or killing, or disturbing certain listed species, and intentional damage to habitats that support those species.

Examples of protected species include: seahorses, marine turtles, dolphins, porpoises and whales. Wildlife licenses are provided free of charge. Natural England are responsible for issuing wildlife licenses landward of the mean low water mark and aim to issue licenses within 30 working days. The Marine Management Organisation are responsible seaward of the low water mark and aim to issue wildlife licenses within six weeks. The requirement for a wildlife license does not depend on the species being located within a Marine Protected Area (MPA), however typically marine protected species (such as seahorses) are present within MPAs.

Case Study: Wildlife Licence

Flood defence works such as a managed realignment, might cause ditches with water voles to be flooded, this would kill the voles so a Wildlife License would be needed. The issuing of the Licence may require certain conditions to be made such as the voles to be trans-located.

Guidance on obtaining a licence for offshore activities or development that may impact on Offshore European Marine Sites is available from the JNCC.

SSSI Works Notification

If the work that you intend to carry out lies with a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) then you must formally notify Natural England of your intentions (applicants don’t need to do this directly if they are applying for other consents as those bodies will automatically consult Natural England as a statutory consultee). On receipt of your notice, Natural England must consider the likely impact on the special features of the SSSI. The legislation provides it with four months to decide whether to, issue consent, issue consent with conditions or refuse consent. Notices for an operation that will not damage the special interest, are likely to be consented. In some circumstances conditions or time limits may need to be attached to the consent to make sure that a notified operation is not undertaken in such a way, that damages an SSSI. See Natural England's Guide for SSSI Owners and Occupiers for more information.

To see whether your location for works has been designated as an SSSI, visit Natural England's Nature on the Map website. Natural England have a Single Point of Contact for protected sites casework. Customers requesting its consent, assent or advice for Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) should use:


SSSI Works Notification Example

A coastal landowner wishes to improve the condition of a track running across his land as it is in poor condition. Although the works will occur within land which is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), the works do not require planning permission. Before carrying out the works, the land owner contacts his local Natural England (NE) office for further advice on the works. The NE member of staff confirms that the works has the potential to damage the SSSI and that a formal Consent is required. The landowner completes a notice form which outlines the works he wishes to undertake and sends this to NE. The land is an important area for overwintering birds and for breeding birds in the summer and so is sensitive to disturbance. However as long as the works occur after August and before October the works can proceed without harming the SSSI features, therefore a Consent is issued on this basis. The landowner is then able to lawfully undertake the works without damaging the SSSI.

Flood Risk Activities: Environmental Permits

An environmental permit (formerly flood defence consent) is required if you want to do work on or near a main river, on or near a flood defence structure, in a flood plain or on or near a sea defence. Commonly occuring activities and development that occur around the coast that may require a permit include:

Harbour Orders

Harbour revision orders (HROs) are used to change the legislation governing the management of a harbour. Harbour empowerment orders (HEOs) are mainly concerned with building new harbours and or creating harbour authorities responsible for improving, maintaining and managing them. Harbour orders that have purely administrative effect are commonly called ‘non-works orders’. Those which authorise a development are commonly called ‘works orders’. If you are seeking a works order, a marine licence may also be required.

The MMO maintains a public register of Harbour Orders applications and decisions.

Fishing Vessel Licences

Fishing vessels registered in the UK must have a licence to fish for sea fish that will be sold. The purpose of the licensing system is to restrict the size of the UK fleet and control UK fishing opportunities to stay within the quotas under the European Union (EU) Common Fisheries Policy.  There are different types of licence, depending on the length of the vessel, the species fished and the waters the vessel will operate in.

The MMO Blue Book is a single collection of UK and EU fisheries laws.

Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects

The Planning Inspectorate is the independent body that examines applications for nationally significant infrastructure projects. These are the large projects that support the economy and vital public services, including railways, large wind farms, power stations, reservoirs, ports, airports and sewage treatment works. The Inspectorate examine these applications and provide recommendations to the Secretary of works.

The Marine Management Organisation (MMO) is involved in different nationally significant infrastructure projects under the Planning Act 2008. 

The MMO acts as a:

If a development consent order (DCO) is granted, the MMO is responsible for enforcing, post-consent monitoring, varying, suspending, and revoking any deemed marine licence(s) as part of the DCO.

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