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Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving way. I want to be clear. If I understand the Minister correctly, in effect he is saying that there will not be renewable energy zones; there is one zone which will circumnavigate the United Kingdom. I have always accepted that within the renewable energy zones the position of a wind farm would be much more closely and strictly defined. Certainly, in so far as I was involved in Amendment No. 172, the purpose of that is specific and identifiable and, I thought, clear from its wording; that is, that there would be areas that were not renewable energy zones and would be reserved to shipping. That is the reason it was worded in that way. That may cause complications for the Minister because it means that there would then be renewable energy zones because shipping would have priority, as, indeed, I think it should, in particular parts of the North Sea where there are these "maritime motorways".

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I do not want to belabour the point. I merely indicate that the concept of zones is just a sub-section of the zone around the whole of the United Kingdom for which we have legal powers to examine the issues of wind energy. The question of where the installation should be, the whole issue of maritime safety, consultation and all the issues that have been aired in the debate, are part of a secondary process. The amendment addresses the concept of the zone and in that sense is not effective in terms of seeking to obtain what has been expressed in the House.

I shall respond in a more direct way to the very important points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Greenway. By that technical approach at the beginning I do not in any way seek to disavow the importance of the issues he raises. The safety of navigation is a predominant concern to the Government. I remind the House that we are dealing with Report stage. We have had Committee stage and are now into the detail. However, in the course of this debate I have been asked two questions, or they were implicit by some contributions. First, I was asked whether the Government have any concept that building wind installations might affect maritime safety. There is only one answer to such a general question and it is brief. The answer is "yes". Secondly, I have been asked the general question of whether we have any idea that there are important sea lanes which ships pass through, some of which can be likened to motorways on land and that it would be absurd to build an installation in the middle of a motorway. The answer to that is also "yes". The Government unreservedly recognise that point too, to say nothing of the fact that there are international shipping lanes. We are governed by international law and therefore there would not be any question of producing such intrusions.

However, I think this was addressed more accurately by the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, who participated in our deliberations in Committee. He identified concerns for certain kinds of shipping and concerns with regard to access to certain of our ports.

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However, if we can talk about ports in the east of England and not mention Felixstowe I am a little worried about just how precise the debate is on the concerns of Britain as a maritime trading nation.

Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, I apologise for intervening again. Harwich and Felixstowe are the same; if you talk about one, you talk about the other.

5 p.m.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I accept the correction from the noble Lord. I was seeking to emphasise that it is important that we concentrate on the detail, which has been identified as issues which the Government should appropriately address, and not on the more general issues which obviously the Government are enormously concerned about but which do not relate directly to these amendments nor in a very real sense to the Bill. We all recognise that the Bill has implications for shipping and the sea. However, it will also be recognised that other laws govern the processes of consultation. The question of decisions taken which affect shipping are extant, viable, crucial and still impact upon this process. However, in this Bill we need only concentrate on those issues which arise particularly because of the proposed wind farm installations.

I turn to the substantive issues covered by the amendments. We understand the concerns of the shipping industry about the development of the renewable energy sector. The Government are committed to working creatively and positively to finding ways in which those two sectors can co-exist.

The Minister responsible for energy, my right honourable friend Stephen Timms in the other place, met representatives of the industry on 16 March and has written subsequently to the Chamber of Shipping to give the shipping community assurances which I trust will allay its concern. The most important point is that the Government will not permit the location of offshore renewable energy installations where they would put at risk the safety of navigation. That is the concern behind the amendments tabled by the noble Lords, Lord Greenway and Lord Higgins. As I stated in Committee, the Government are committed to maritime safety and I am happy for the opportunity to emphasise that point again today.

The statement that we shall not permit the location of offshore renewable energy installations where they will endanger navigation is not a vague aspiration on our part. As I indicated in my opening remarks, we already have legislation—the Coast Protection Act 1949—to ensure that offshore renewable energy installations are not located where they would obstruct or endanger navigation. The Department for Transport considers applications for consent very carefully and consults the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and other organisations with an interest in marine safety before deciding whether to grant an application.

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The Coast Protection Act applies to development in territorial waters and to areas designated under Section 1(7) of the Continental Shelf Act. So, it will cover installations in the renewable energy zones which are being established by the Bill.

I appreciate that a developer can choose to seek development approval for a project in English and Welsh territorial waters using the Transport and Works Act 1992, which disapplies the Coast Protection Act. However, I want to assure noble Lords that control of such developments is equally stringent under those provisions to ensure maritime safety is not compromised. The Maritime and Coastguard Agency is consulted on all applications.

The noble Lord, Lord Higgins, in his Amendment No. 184A, raised the important point of the cumulative impact of wind farms. I assure him that we regard that as a very important factor in looking at whether development consent can be given for those projects. Developers will be obliged to work closely with each other and with shipping interests to understand the cumulative elements of the development of such installations.

I recognise that the shipping industry would like to see wind farms relocated rather than shipping diverted. The noble Lord, Lord Greenway, emphasised why significant costs would be potentially involved to the shipping industry if diversions were necessary in order to avoid wind farm installations. That is the burden of his Amendment No. 184, which we are considering in the group. This may not be a simple matter, given the technical and environmental constraints on where wind farms can be located. A number of factors will undoubtedly have to be taken into account in reaching decisions in this area. They will include, of course, the efficacy of wind farms and our need, as the House would recognise, to improve production of energy from renewable sources. One important issue to take into account is the possible impact on shipping. Consents decisions have to be carefully balanced across a range of interests. I merely wish to acknowledge in this debate the fact that, as the noble Lord has emphasised, shipping is important.

It may be reasonable in certain cases for ships to re-route around a proposed wind farm rather than for the wind farm developer to find a new site. Where such a re-routing could be achieved safely—I emphasise "safely"—we would want to consider it as an option. We would not propose such a change lightly, and would want to look at all the other aspects identified by the noble Lord, including the environmental, but certainly the economic, aspects of interfering with shipping. I can give an assurance that any such requirements for shipping to deviate from its present routes will be kept to a minimum. We shall need to bear in mind also our obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. It is just not possible for us to site installations, and the safety zones around them, in international shipping lanes.

Looking to the future, the Minister has given an undertaking that the Government will work with the shipping industry to see whether we can improve our

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current processes for making the initial high-level decisions about the areas, within which development of offshore renewable energy installations can take place. The re-establishment of shipping clearways would certainly be one approach that could be considered further in co-ordination with the industry.

Amendment No. 179 raises the issue of possible interference with ship communications systems. As the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, identified, the House has considered—albeit briefly in Question Time—issues with regard to low-flying aircraft concerning the Ministry of Defence. There is the issue of whether wind farms will affect ships' communications systems. I give the noble Lord this assurance: we agree that a further study of the matter needs to be undertaken in view of the possible effects on navigational safety. Such communications are of paramount importance in search and rescue operations. I hope noble Lords will recognise that we take that point on board. We shall carry out such a study and ensure that the results give us the assurances we need that such radar systems are not adversely affected in such a way as to jeopardise the activity of shipping.

As I have indicated, I have spoken at considerable length. This has been a lengthy debate. I apologise for the length of my reply, but I thought I owed it to the mover of the amendment and those noble Lords who have contributed to the debate to give a comprehensive reply. I see that I am being stimulated to add to my already extensive remarks. I give way.


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