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11 January 2024
Renewable Energy

The Crown Estate Commissions New Research on How to Assess the Social Impact of Marine Activities  

The Crown Estate, a national landowner and manager of the seabed around England, Wales and Northern Ireland, has commissioned the University of Exeter to conduct an evidence review of social impact assessments in the marine space to enhance understanding of how to deliver social value through its marine activities.

The Crown Estate is responsible for the leasing process for a wide range of marine industries, including offshore wind, carbon capture, tidal and wave energy, as well as aquaculture. It recognises that, delivered in the right way, these leasing processes have the potential to drive social value for coastal communities – something it is already exploring with developers as part of leasing plans for floating offshore wind in the Celtic Sea. The review is a key stepping stone to building new data and evidence around how social, as well as economic and environmental value can be delivered as part of leasing requirements.

Led by Dr Pamela Buchan, a marine social scientist at Exeter University, the review will consider evidence from research and industry to understand what is currently known about the social impacts of marine sectors and how these are being measured. It will also look for trends in social impact assessments, such as strengths and weaknesses in certain sectors, and aims, overall, to identify best practice for social impact assessment and the key gaps where more knowledge is needed.

Caroline Price, Interim Head of Nature and Environment, The Crown Estate, said:   

“In our role as manager of the seabed, our ambition is to create financial, environmental and social value for the country. From floating offshore wind in the Celtic Sea to growing investments in marine nature recovery projects, there is a wealth of new coastal activity that can offer real opportunities to deliver social value for coastal communities. We are pleased to be partnering with the University of Exeter to identify the best practice for social impact assessment, and ultimately to garner more targeted and direct benefits for the coastal communities neighbouring these developments.”

Dr Pamela Buchan, marine social scientist and ACCESS Network Leadership College Fellow, the University of Exeter, said:   

“In the UK, impact assessments in marine sectors have a strong focus on environmental impacts and the socio-economic benefits of marine developments. However, both marine developments and their shoreside infrastructure can have a wide range of potential social impacts, particularly on their nearby coastal communities.

These range from changes to land and seascapes, affecting how people feel about their place, health and wellbeing implications where access to the water or water quality are impacted, and onshore industrialisation such as ports and electricity substations. With its vast asset base and multi-sectoral knowledge, The Crown Estate is uniquely placed to embed social value firmly alongside financial and environmental value in the marine space, and we’re delighted to partner with them on delivering this important piece of research, which will be critical to supporting them in this ambition.”

Evidence for the review will be drawn from several sources, including The Crown Estate’s own current processes and metrics for social impact evaluation and relevant reports. It will also draw on interdisciplinary academic literature considering the ability of marine spatial planning and decision-making to deliver positive social impact, as well as relevant grey literature from marine sectors.

In formulating her findings, Dr Buchan will consider social impact assessment through the lens of social justice, which has three pillars: recognition, representation, and distribution. Recognition refers to who is identified as a stakeholder and, thus, who has a say. Representation, also known as procedural justice, refers to how stakeholders are involved in a decision-making process. Finally, distribution calls for a fair distribution of benefits and costs resulting from a decision.

The review is one of several steps The Crown Estate is taking to improve its social impact evidence base. Other initiatives currently underway include a Wellbeing Outcomes Assessment of previous Crown Estate activities, as well as the development of spatial planning tools to incorporate information on community sensitivity and opportunities for positive social impacts.

The findings are due to be published in spring 2024 on the Marine Data Exchange.

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