The Crown Estate is a commercial property organization that manages a diverse portfolio on behalf of the UK. The property ranges from offices and shops in the heart of London, to farmland and forests, to the UK’s foreshore and seabed. Because the role of The Crown Estate is to enhance the value of this property and earn a surplus for UK taxpayers, it leases various activities. On its seabed property, for example, this includes licensing various offshore renewable energy projects. The Crown Estate plans for these offshore projects using marine spatial planning.

In May, The Crown Estate was awarded the 2010 ESRI Award for Return on Investment, honoring its use of marine spatial planning to reduce costs and create a better investment climate. (ESRI is a leading provider of geographic information systems, or GIS.) MEAM spoke with Tim Norman, senior manager of planning for The Crown Estate, about how its marine spatial planning work has lowered costs for management and industry.

MEAM: What marine property does The Crown Estate manage?

Tim Norman: The Crown Estate has extensive marine assets throughout the UK, including around half of the foreshore, the beds of estuaries, and tidal rivers. It also owns virtually the entire seabed out to 12 nautical miles, and this includes the rights to explore and utilize the natural resources of the UK continental shelf, although it excludes oil, gas, and coal. In all, The Crown Estate has interests in a marine estate of over 850,000 km2 and is responsible for leasing many commercial activities, including offshore wind, wave, and tidal energy.

It is important to note that recent legislative changes have established a statutory system of marine planning in the UK. As The Crown Estate is a landowner not a regulator, the statutory process of planning the marine environment will fall to relevant government departments. However, The Crown Estate will still plan its own commercial activities and, as a key stakeholder, will provide input into the marine planning process.

MEAM: In what ways can marine spatial planning (MSP) lead to more efficient, cost-effective management of marine resources?

Norman: In our view the key benefits of MSP are:

  • The creation of a more certain (or less uncertain) environment for the planning of marine development. Our MSP team uses the Marine Resource System (MaRS) tool to identify areas that are constrained physically, technically, and environmentally for the different types of development that take place within the estate.
  • Mitigation of conflicts in use of the seabed. The Crown Estate uses MaRS to identify and avoid potential conflicts in use and to identify which activities can coexist with one another.
  • Direct time savings in undertaking GIS work. Our MaRS tool has dramatically simplified the work involved in generating maps and models of the seabed.

MEAM: What is MaRS, exactly?

Norman: MaRS ( is a GIS-based decision support system designed to help The Crown Estate plan the use of the marine estate. The business challenge was to build a GIS system capable of characterizing the distribution and quality of marine resources and planning their development and use. It achieves this through the mapping and categorization of:

  • Areas of physical suitability by activity (such as wind power);
  • Physical constraints and restriction to use;
  • Consenting constraints, including other marine users and environmental interests;
  • Economic return and probability of economic return;
  • Degree of social and economic sustainability; and
  • Spatial and temporal interaction between activities and features (fish, marine mammals, etc.).

MEAM: What are some specific economic savings The Crown Estate has achieved from marine spatial planning?

Norman: One example is from the third round of UK offshore wind development zones, which was derived using decision support from MaRS. The business case for MaRS is predicated on reducing program slippage. If the Round 3 program had been delayed by one year, the loss to The Crown Estate revenue would have been in the order of £22 million ($34 million) over the life of the project. So far the development zones have focused efforts and sped up project development programs by at least a year, and in some cases more. This has saved developers millions in cost and effort. This is in addition to the benefits derived from the UK’s becoming an attractive investment opportunity, creating jobs, and securing its energy supply.

Another example is that of a major oil pipeline that was proposed over an already licensed aggregate dredging area. The 20-km overlap in activities was worth £120 million ($187 million) in potential lost aggregate revenue. Based on MaRS, an appropriate compromise was implemented to safeguard this future revenue.

And the time savings from having marine spatial planning automated through MaRS has helped The Crown Estate save more than 300 man days in the past six months alone, equating to a savings of over £135,000 ($210,000) in direct staff cost.

For more information:

Tim Norman, The Crown Estate, London, UK. E-mail: