We are faced with the daunting prospect of a giant offshore wind farm off Dorset’s coast.
Because of its location, the wind farm would affect around 60 miles of the most highly designated coast in England, including its only UNESCO natural World Heritage Site (WHS), a National Park, two Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and two Heritage coasts. A more sensitive site is hard to imagine.
Furthermore, the proposal is well inside the 13.8 miles recommended by the Offshore Energy Strategic Environmental Assessment in 2009.
In fact, Navitus Bay Development Ltd (NBDL) wishes to erect 121, 193-metre-high turbines, the nearest of which will only be nine miles from the resort of Swanage. Here, the coastline has the same designation as Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.
In addition, NBDL also submitted a secondary, smaller proposal for a 78 turbine wind farm in the event that the first is rejected. In this instance, the nearest turbine would be 11.5 miles off Swanage.
Apart from the potential damage to migratory birds and sea-life, studies have pointed to environmental impact, including radar interference, ‘rain shadows’, flicker effect and sound.
Project director Mike Unsworth admits that, under the right atmospheric conditions, the rotating blades could be heard onshore.
Following a long period of examination, the Planning Inspectorate has now passed its recommendation to the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, for a decision by 11 September, 2015.
The proposal has attracted more objections from the public than any other UK wind farm – 10 times the number received over the Brighton Rampion array. Objectors include the National Trust, the New Forest National Park, recreational and commercial sea users, Dorset County Council, Christchurch, Purbeck and Bournemouth Councils and of course local residents.
Bournemouth Council has calculated that, over the project’s 30-year lifespan, the town will lose £6.3 billion in tourism income, with the loss of nearly 5,000 jobs. We can only guess at the potential toll on Purbeck.
Significantly, UNESCO, which designated the Jurassic Coast in 2001 as England’s sole, natural WHS of universal value, has said that the wind farm would transform the Jurassic Coast “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.” This, it adds, “could affect the long term viability” of the WHS and therefore, ultimately, its designation.
UNESCO also criticised the in-house Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), used by NBDL to validate its proposals, saying it would have been “more appropriate” to commission a genuinely independent report.
So-called ‘mitigation’ of many of the environmental effects suggested in NBDL’s EIA are superficial and occasionally, ridiculous. For example, local residents, described in the EIA as “primary visual receptors”, are advised to look away to avoid having their view spoiled.
Tempting offers of jobs on the Isle of Wight, Portland and Poole, which I welcome, will not be substantiated until a final decision is made.
Then, and only then, will the developer reveal whether the turbine foundations will be constructed out of concrete or steel, which depends on the seabed.
The former would bring hundreds of jobs to Portland, while the latter would see the contract go to a Belgian company.
The turbines could be built on the Isle of Wight in a joint venture between Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Vestas, a Japanese and Danish company, respectively.
While local MPs are united against the development, it is important to make clear that we are not against wind-power per se.
The crux is that there are plenty of other places where this wind farm could be sited, rather than desecrate Dorset’s beautiful coastline.