Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Councils Challenge the Crown

Should local Councils have been consulted about the Crown Estate offshore zones before the bids go in?

I read this morning on the BBC that four Borough Council’s have issued a statement in which they have called for an open debate on the future of the offshore “West of the Isle of Wight” Crown Estate zone, off the South coast of Dorset.

Image by phault

The four Boroughs have clubbed together to say that they are “collectively disappointed” as they believe they should have already been consulted to be able to express “[their] views and the views of local residents partners and businesses”, about the proposed area of “economic potential for wind farm development”.

I understand that as part of the development phase for any wind farm, or major development for that matter, consultation with the local community (often represented rightly or wrongly by the Council) is absolutely fundamental. However, at this stage this is just a “zone” (literally just an area of the sea bed) which has been identified as potentially suitable for an offshore wind farm, in the aim to generate 25GW of offshore wind energy by 2020. There’s still a long way to go, in terms of environmental assessment, local consultations, grid connection and I hate to think how many other hurdles that I do not even know about!

It seems to me that the local councils are getting ahead of themselves somewhat. If an individual was planning to construct a new building, they would have the right to buy (or lease) the land before they go through the process of getting planning permission. This is the very first step in the process and at present the zones have simply been identified. Utilities and specialist Developers are currently putting together proposals for how they would go about developing the site (i.e. the full process, including liaising with local governments and communities) which will be submitted to the Crown Estate very shortly. But they are only proposals. In fact, The Crown Estate go so far as putting a disclaimer on their website:
The Crown Estate does not warrant or accept liability for either:
a) The suitability of any area identified for the purposes of specific windfarm developments
b) …
In their official presentations and documentation (which is all downloadable from their website), they say that zone allocation will happen after the SEA (Strategic Environmental Assessment). As far as I’m aware even that has not happened yet, so there is always a risk that some of the zones will not prove suitable for the offshore wind farm proposed. This is a hugely risky business, and in order to encourage the development of clean energy projects in the UK, the Crown Estate is helping to shoulder some of that risk (which is, let’s be fair, pretty generous). The Crown Estate will fund up to 50% of Round 3 development costs through co-investment.

An individual I was speaking to today summarised it nicely for me. Why is it that everyone is so excited about and supportive of green energy, until they realise they might actually be affected? If we’re going to hit these objectives, the local government is going to have to support the developments which are being initiated by national and European governments.

Right, I’ll get off my soap box. For now.

By Clare Buxton
Sector Lead for Wind Energy

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