Defeating Navitus Bay wind farm

11th September, 2015. "The Secretary of State does not consider that the Applicant has made a sufficiently robust case for granting development consent."

With these words, the Department for Energy and Climate change rejected the Navitus Bay proposal to build a giant windfarm, the size of Bournemouth, Poole and Christchurch combined, just nine miles off Swanage.

It was a significant victory for campaigners, especially as such a windfarm would have been a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP), meaning that the need for renewable energy is such that there is generally a policy imperative to grant permission to such projects.

However, the Secretary of State concluded that, "In this case, the potential impacts are of such a scale that they outweigh the policy imperatives." 

The rejection letter particularly referred to the deleterious effect the windfarm would have on the setting of the UNESCO World Heritage Site and also on tourism in Dorset.

Both concerns were high on the campaigners' list of problems. Challenge Navitus, headed by Dr Andrew Langley, pointed out that the coastline was some of the most highly designated and therefore most sensitive in England. Bournemouth Brorough Council commissioned a report showing that over the 30-year life of the wind farm, Dorset could lose 5,000 jobs and £6.5bn in tourism revenues. Dorset MPs were united in their opposition.

The campaign has been hard fought over four years. Richard's response in a press release is below.

RICHARD DRAX MP ‘DELIGHTED’ AT NAVITUS BAY PLANNING REJECTION

Richard Drax, MP for South Dorset, today greeted the news of the refusal of planning consent for the giant, Navitus Bay offshore windfarm with “delight.”

“This is great news for the people of South Dorset,” he said, “And I am delighted that Lord Bourne has taken the recommendation of the Planning Inspectorate in deciding to withhold planning consent for this proposal.”

“Navitus Bay was always too big, too close and threatened the very existence of England’s only natural, UNESCO World Heritage Site.”

“Yes, we need renewable energy sources for the future and already, offshore wind generation forms a significant part of that, but to attempt to site it here, near some of the most highly designated coastline in England, would have been wilfully destructive.”

“Apart from the UNESCO WHS, we have the New Forest national park, two areas of outstanding natural beauty, and two heritage coasts. A more sensitive site is hard to imagine.”

“Ultimately, I believe the threat to our Jurassic Coast, combined with damning research from Bournemouth Borough Council, which showed the wind farm could cost the area 5,000 jobs and £6.3 billion in tourism revenue, swung the balance.”

“I would like to congratulate the many anti Navitus campaigners, including my fellow Dorset MPs, on winning a significant victory. The opposition was vigorous and notable for the number of letters written and petitions signed.”

“In particular, I would like to congratulate Dr Andrew Langley and members of the Challenge Navitus campaign on their hard fought battle.”

“I am delighted to note that, as the original United Nations inscription intended, this victory will preserve our beautiful coastline for countless generations of residents and visitors to come.”

Drax has supported the campaign against Navitus Bay from the very beginning, first calling a debate in Westminster Hall in 2012.

In June 2015, he won an adjournment debate in the Commons chamber on the Navitus Bay proposals, at which the Minister of State for Energy and Climate Change, the Rt. Hon Andrea Leadsom, was present. Promising that the decision would be ‘rigorous and fair,’ she, in turn handed the decision to Lord Bourne to make.

In July 2015, Drax led a delegation of Dorset MPs to Number 10, in order to put their points to the Prime Minister.

The rejected Navitus Bay proposal was for 121 turbines, each 193 metres tall, nine miles off the resort of Swanage and occupying153 sq km, an area the size of Bournemouth, Poole and Christchurch combined.

 

Earlier campaign notes follow

We await the Minister's decision, due by September 11, over the fight to save our beautiful coastline from a giant, offshore windfarm.

An exclusive, Daily Telegraph article on September 4, suggests that the Planning Inspectorate has written to Ministers recommending refusal of planning consent for both Navitus Bay proposals but definite confirmation is yet to come from the Department for Energy and Climate Change, due by the above date.

On June 16, Richard held an adjournment debate in the House of Commons. Adjournment debates are won by ballot and are prized by MPs because they are one of the few ways in which an MP can put a particular matter before the House. They also require the Minister in charge of the particular topic under dicussion to be present and to answer. The purpose of this debate "was to impress upon the Government the contentious nature of the wind farm and how many people are opposed to it," said Richard. 

On July 9, Richard also led a delegation of Dorset MPs to a meeting at Number 10, Downing Street, where the MPs put a number of points concerning the proposed wind farm to the Prime Minister. Accompanying Richard were Christopher Chope (Christchurch), Tobias Ellword (Bournemouth East), Conor Burns (Bournemouth West) and Michael Tomlinson (Mid Dorset and North Poole), all of whom oppose the wind farm. Absent but also opposing the wind farm were Robert Syms (Poole) and Simon Hoare (North Dorset).

As a nationally significant infrastructure project, (NSIP), the Navitus Bay wind farm proposals must be examined by the Planning Inspectorate, which takes written submissions from interested parties. The Planning Inspectorate completed its examination on June 11 and passed the decision over to the Secretary of State for a decision by September 11, 2015. 

Richard, along with other objectors, made a written submission to the Planning Inspectorate Examination last year. Richard's submission detailed his objections to the Navitus Bay wind farm and he agreed to be interviewed as a witness, should he be called.

Over 2,000 submissions on Navitus Bay were received by the Planning Inspectorate - a record. A sampling survey in February showed that 97% of submissions opposed Navitus Bay.

The planning decision is particularly complex because it involves two government departments; the Department for Energy and Climate Change and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. DECC, for which Amber Rudd is now Secretary of State, is responsible for decisions on Britain's future energy needs while DCMS, headed by Secretary of State John Whittingdale, looks after the area's unique, UNESCO designation as a world heritage site.

During the last government, Richard particularly welcomed a letter, from Sajid Javid, former Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, to the Planning Inspectorate, in which the SoS asked the inspectors to give "full consideration to the concerns raised," in view of "the exceptional heritage value of this stretch of the English coastine and the revenue that this generates by way of tourism for the area."

The letter from Mr Javid was in response to last year's letter from the United Nations' Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) to the Government, in which the UN agency said that the giant, wind farm would change the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site (WHS) “from being located in a natural setting that is largely free from man-made structures to one where its setting is dominated by man-made structures.”

The comments condemning the plans were made by Kishore Rao, UNESCO's Director of the World Heritage Centre.

Mr Rao was responding to an earlier submission from the DCMS, which suggested that the wind farm “would not result in an impact” upon the World Heritage designation of the coastline.

Countering this assumption, Mr Rao said that “potential impacts” from the wind farm on the Jurassic Coast were “in contradiction” to the “overarching principle of the World Heritage Convention,” which stipulates that a world heritage site should be transmitted intact and unchanged to future generations.

“I wrote to UNESCO in July 2012 about the threat that such a vast, industrial, offshore complex could pose to this, the sole World Heritage Site of Outstanding Universal Value in England,” said Mr Drax. “I am delighted that they seem to agree with me, although I am concerned that our designation may be threatened.”

“Their letter is devastating on many counts,” added Mr Drax, “In particular, UNESCO objects to Navitus Bay Development Ltd being allowed to prepare their own environment impact assessment (EIA). They say: 'Due to the significance of this project and its potential impact on a World Heritage natural property, it could have been more appropriate to commission the preparation of an EIA to an independent consultant instead of being prepared by the proponents of this development.' I agree." 

“They go on to say that the development would have a ‘significant impact upon the natural setting’ of the Jurassic Coastline. They also reject the developers’ suggestion that the value of the WHS lies in close up examination of the geomorphology. Instead, they say that Navitus Bay would ‘adversely impact’ views from the main visitor site at Durlston Point, where the wind farm ‘would replace the Isle of Wight as the dominant feature on the horizon.'

Mr Drax said: “Just think about that. Up to one hundred and ninety four pylons, the height of London’s ‘gherkin’, dwarfing our views of the Needles.”

“UNESCO says that the result will be reduced visitor numbers, because they will be unable to experience and appreciate the WHS in its ‘wider natural setting,’ which they believe could in turn affect its long term viability.”

“This is a real worry," said Mr Drax. "Tourism is of critical importance to Dorset. We welcome 14 million visitors a year and most of them will visit the seaside at some point. Every one of them will be able to see a forest of pylons offshore if this proposal goes ahead. UNESCO seems in little doubt that such a vista will put visitors off. That, in turn will affect jobs and businesses down here.”

“It beggars belief that anyone ever thought of putting a wind farm of this size and complexity here, so close to shore. ”

"We know already that it will have far reaching repercussions, way beyond anything the developers’ environmental impact report has acknowledged. For example, it has been independently calculated that the construction, with its resulting sediment disturbance, will affect five million square metres of seabed."

"Add to that a number of as yet unexplored effects, including constant sound, ultra low frequency hum, light flicker, rain and radar shadows and the physical obstacles to bird and marine life and the scale of the problem becomes clearer."

"When proposals for just three wind turbines threatened another World Heritage Site, the Mont Saint Michel in France, UNESCO threatened to withdraw their world heritage status. The French government was forced to draw a 20km exclusion zone around the Mont."

"At the very least, I hope for a similar result here. Better still, Navitus Bay will follow UNESCO’s suggestion and place the wind farm elsewhere."

Further information about the campaign against Navitus Bay follows:

On 19 December, 2013, Mr Drax met Dorset Council leaders and Conor Burns, MP for Bournemouth West, for a presentation on and discussion about the wind farm.

The meeting, aimed at informing council leaders about the exact size and scope of Navitus Bay, was called by Drax, who opposes the giant offshore wind farm. Dr Andrew Langley, founder of Challenge Navitus, made the presentation.

Current plans put forward by Navitus Bay call for 218 smaller, 5MW turbines or 136 larger 8MW turbines. They are to be spread over a quadrangle equivalent in size to the area covered from Poole to Christchurch at the southern boundary and Wimborne to Ringwood at the northern boundary.

The wind farm would sit squarely in the middle of some of the most active sailing waters in Britain and on the edge of a busy shipping lane. It would also dominate the view from much of Purbeck, Sandbanks, Studland, Bournemouth and other beauty spots nearby.

Mr Drax believes the wind farm is too close, especially as government guidelines call for a 12 nautical mile exclusion zone. However, under these plans, 82 per cent of the site falls within that limit. And the 8MW turbines are huge. At three times higher than London’s 'gherkin', they will appear higher to the naked eye than the needles off the Isle of Wight.

Navitus Bay might have far reaching repercussions. Tourists, fishing, diving and sailing industries could all move elsewhere. The impact upon fish spawning beds and bird migration can only be guessed at. The disruption and pollution caused by digging the cables across the New Forest will destroy an environment we have cherished and protected for 1000 years. Navigation lights on the turbines will destroy the beauty of the night sky. Furthermore, the effects on human beings of low frequency sound across water are as yet unknown.

The centre of offshore wind generation in this country is, rightly, in the North Sea, where there is room for these arrays and where they will neither spoil the view nor the environment.

The Navitus Bay public consultation exercises have now ended. The Navitus Bay planning application is due to be submitted to the Government in the spring. 

Mr Drax is supporting the 'Challenge Navitus' campaign (http://www.challengenavitus.org.uk/)   which is growing fast in South Dorset and linking up with other campaigns along the south coast. He believes that the proposals threaten the beauty and UNESCO world heritage status of the Jurassic Coast. Bournemouth Council has announced that the project will 'devastate' tourism and a number of other south coast MPs are united in their opposition.

The wind farm is a 50-50 joint venture between two foreign firms: the Dutch ENECO and French utility giant, EDF. It forms part of Round Three of the Department of Energy and Climate Change’s programme of offshore development, which is designed to generate 33 gigawatts of energy by 2020.

The 200 sq km development is, in turn, part of 723 square kilometres granted to ENECO in 2009 by the Crown Estates. It aims to produce enough energy for up to 820,000 homes – almost the entire population of Dorset. It is expected to create jobs, foster engineering and marine-based skills and forms part of a regeneration agenda for some of the most run down areas on the South Coast.

However, putting this wind farm on this site is the equivalent of planting hundreds of wind turbines on the Great Barrier Reef, another WHS.

Dorset’s and East Devon’s majestic Jurassic Coast is the only natural UNESCO world heritage site in England. That status was granted 10 years ago, in recognition of a coastline, which UNESCO describes as being of ‘outstanding universal value’. It is a prized designation, jealously guarded as a magnet for 16 million day visitors every year. Tourists spent nearly £700 million a year here and support more than 45,000 jobs.

While the precise details of the Navitus Bay windfarm will not be confirmed until after the fourth and final phase of public consultation closed on October 11, the form it will take is becoming clearer.

The original proposal is for the generation of between 900MW and 1200MW of wind energy a year, which translates into a need for between 133 and 333 turbines, each somewhere between 150 metres and 210 metres tall. 

Updated proposals in December 2012 reduced the size of seabed to be developed, the number of turbines to 218, and the overall capacity. However, the change seems to have been forced by a navigation problem regarding the approach to the Needles' channel, which the old layout was obstructing.  

Overall, the change is pretty small and will not make a dramatic difference to the visual impact.  From Durlston, the farm still spans more than twice the width of the Isle of Wight, and could still be nearly 3x as tall.  The "reduction" in turbine numbers would be around eight per cent, corresponding to the "reduction" in output from 1200 to 1100MW (but remember that this zone was originally billed as a 900MW zone, so we are still 20 per cent above even that level).  The "thirty-five per cent reduction" in the maximum number of turbines is pretty meaningless. It is questionable whether 333 "small" turbines was ever a realistic possibility, and what matters is what is installed.

As an example of the impact of these turbines, one of the largest proposed, 7MW at 189 metres tall, would dwarf the Gherkin in London. The 164 metre diameter rotor on this turbine, seen from the shore 14km away, would appear the same size as the full moon. One hundred and thirty three of them – or even more, if smaller turbines are used - could permanently destroy the view from the south coast.

In addition, the proximity of the wind farm to our shoreline contradicts the Government’s own guidelines, which suggest that such developments should be further than 23 kms from the coast. The vast majority of the project lies inside that limit, with the closest point a mere 13 kms off shore. This means that anyone looking out to sea along the 85 miles of coastline from Portland to Ventnor would have an uninterrupted view of turbines.

There was the possibility of locating the turbines at the further extremities of the area designated by the Crown Estates, but ENECO and EDF chose the site closest to shore where the sea is between 20m and 50m deep. Building a wind farm in waters deeper than 50m is excessively expensive. Therefore, no matter what the results of the public consultations turn out to be, there is very little room for manoeuvre.

Mr Drax has written to the UNESCO World Heritage Centre, warning them that Dorset's own, natural world heritage site is in jeopardy. UNESCO has written in turn to the Ambassador to the permanent delegation of the United Kingdom to UNESCO and also to the advisory body of the World Heritage Committee for their comments on this development. They have also demanded a visual analysis of the potential negative impact on the coastline. 

The Department for Energy and Climate Change confirms that Britain is still dedicated to achieving a target of 15 per cent of the country’s energy to be produced by renewables by 2020. However, there is already a question mark over the efficacy of wind energy, which has been proven to be intermittent and unreliable. At peak output, wind farms only average a third of their proposed capacity. Therefore, a 900MW target capacity – the lower end of the hoped-for capacity at Navitus - would shrink to 300MW, which represents only about a quarter to a fifth of the output of an average power station.

The electricity networks strategy group, ENSG, reported this year on what they describe as ‘regional connection issues.’ Put simply, our networks simply cannot cope with the extra capacity, especially when it comes in intermittent and unpredictable spurts. ENSG estimates that £450m will need to be spent on ‘system reinforcement‘ in the South West, which includes the proposed Navitus Bay development, before any electricity flows.

ENECO and EDF are doing their best to consult all those who live near or use these waters. They have spoke to local residents, businesses, sailors, divers, fishermen and have promised to take their views into account - all, of course, within the harder constraints of where and how a wind farm of such magnitude can be situated.

But why are we handing such a critical part of our national energy policy over to foreign firms? ENECO, which is owned by a consortium of 64 Dutch municipalities, and, EDF, which is 84 per cent owned by the French state, are being allowed to develop a wind farm in some of the most sensitive waters around our shores.

We have 11,000 miles of coastline. Regular tides, ebbing and flowing four times a day, are predicted accurately for the next 10,000 years. Harnessing tidal power should be a priority.

Fracking – or hydraulic fracturing to release shale gas from its underground beds - promises hundreds of years of energy, if we can learn to do it safely.The problem is that it is a fossil fuel and, as such, has not even been mentioned in the Department for Energy and Climate Change’s draft energy bill.

Yet, in the USA, despite the obviously vested interests of Big Oil and Big Environment, ‘fracking’ has proved an irresistible and revolutionary force. US consumer gas prices are now half what they are here…..

Meanwhile, ironically, our commitment to green targets may destroy some of our most valuable natural assets. The potential effect of these giant turbines on the environment is catastrophic. South Dorset's limestone clifftops are ‘touch down’ for to countless birds, on the major migratory route to and from the Cherbourg peninsula. Scientific studies of possible avian mortality rates are so far incomplete but suspected to be high.

Noise pollution, flicker, vibration, rain shadows and radar shadow are just a few more of the turbine fans’ unwelcome environmental effects.

Finally, Mr Drax fears that the current planning guidelines may make it harder for local people to defeat unwanted wind farm proposals. In a recent reply to a letter from Drax, the Minister explained that the wind farm is a “Nationally significant Infrastructure project under the planning act”.

As such, the proposal goes straight to the Planning Inspectorate, together with an environmental statement on potential impacts on the surrounding area. That also is prepared by the developer.

The minister pointed out that members of the public can put forward their views to the Inspectorate but also confirmed that the wind farm is part of our commitment to produce 15 per cent of our energy from renewable sources by 2020. In addition, he wrote that the Offshore Strategic Environmental Assessment for 2011 concludes that there are  “no overriding environmental considerations to prevent the achievement of up to 33 gigawatts of offshore wind.”

Just as with recent onshore wind farm planning appeals, Mr Drax fears that we may find planning inspectors citing renewable energy targets as being more important than planning considerations.

He sincerely hopes that the amendments to the National Planning Policy Framework, in which it was suggested that renewable energy targets should NOT be used by developers as a reason to override the unsuitability of specific locations, and that the wishes of the local people should still be considered paramount, should be adopted in the case of offshore wind farm applications as well.

Mr Drax is aware that his constituents in South Dorset are divided on the wind farm.

He respects all these viewpoints but, in defending our heritage for the next generation, believes that the wind farm should be located elsewhere.