Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Greenway: My Lords, I support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Higgins. I accept his apologies—I think we will blame the mistake on the Recess—but I did have my name down to the amendment at Report stage.

I agree very much with what the noble Lord said. At Report stage, the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, gave an assurance that he would look further into the matter of interference with marine communications, electronics, radar and so on. I believe that this has already been put in train and that the MCA is carrying out initial "in-field" studies in the vicinity of the North Hoyle wind farm off the north of Wales. The Government have called for consultation with the marine industry—I believe that comments have to be in by the end of next week—and so matters are moving ahead.

One of the arguments that the Government may have against the amendment is that it may unduly delay the process of issuing licences. But if they are getting on with it as quickly as I take them to be, we can get round that problem. There is the added problem of looking into the materials that are used in the construction of the wind turbines. That may also be having an effect on radio communications. Furthermore, we have to look at the cumulative effect. This is important because the wind farms will be built seawards of existing wind farms and the possible very large cumulative effect could increase the risk to navigational aids.

I fully support the amendment. The Government are aware of the problem and I hope that they will look favourably on the amendment.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, for the way in which he moved the amendment and to the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, for his remarks. As they will recognise, there is not a great deal of difference between the Government's position and the one advocated so ably by both noble Lords.

I gave an assurance at Report stage that the Government would carry out the study mentioned in the amendment, and we stand by that undertaking. As the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, emphasised, it is important that wind farms do not compromise safety by interfering to an unacceptable degree with ship communications systems. The point made in the amendment about search and rescue is of particular importance and well made. Time is often of the essence in search and rescue situations and communications systems obviously must be working to the highest standards in such circumstances.

20 Apr 2004 : Column 240

As the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, indicated, it is important that the Government should draw on international experience. We shall look at Denmark and, as the noble Lord suggested with great emphasis, the Netherlands, both countries having substantial numbers of wind farms in coastal areas. We can also use the offshore wind farm at North Hoyle as a test facility to provide an input into the study.

We see the study as a priority. Where it will go from the initial information-gathering phases is difficult to predict. However, I can assure the noble Lord that the effect of a wind farm on ships' communications systems will certainly be one of the issues which will need to be addressed when the developers of the round two offshore wind farm projects submit their applications for consent as part of the process of considering the impact on marine safety.

I want to give the noble Lord a further assurance that the Government will take into account all costs and benefits with regard to the proposal, so his point about the extra pollution caused by ships having to navigate around wind farms will be taken into account at that stage. That is a point properly made.

We have repeatedly made it clear that consent will not be granted when a wind farm presents a danger to navigation. We do not expect that the first applications for consent will be submitted until some months from now. That gives us a window in which to complete the study and to consider the outcome.

I hope, therefore, that the noble Lord will recognise that he has made his point. We accept the necessity for the study. We have time to do it, we will draw on international experience, and we will take into account all the factors that he and the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, brought to our attention. If I were pressed on the amendment, I could elaborate about technical difficulties. However, the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, and I are so close in empathy about what should be achieved with regard to action on the round two submissions that I hope he will recognise that I have moved as far as I can without directly accepting the amendment. On that basis, I hope that he will feel that he can take these assurances and will be prepared to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Higgins: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. I am sorry that he cannot simply accept the amendment; I think it would be helpful to have it in the Bill. He has given no reason why he is unable to do so. It is therefore rather tempting to press the amendment to a Division and get it in the Bill, so that we know where we stand. However, I served my apprenticeship in another place under the late Iain Macleod who, in the face of assurances of the kind which the noble Lord has given this evening, said that it was not the policy of the Opposition to shoot Santa Claus. That probably applies in this case. Therefore, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

20 Apr 2004 : Column 241

Clause 93 [Consents for generating stations offshore]:

Lord Higgins moved Amendment No. 12:

    Page 71, line 12, at end insert—

"( ) In section 36(1) of the 1989 Act (consent required for the construction etc. of generating stations) at the end of subsection (1) insert "and such consent shall only be given in relation to offshore wind farms after full consultation with representative bodies of marine users"."

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the amendment would provide that consent required for the construction and so on of generating stations shall be given in relation to offshore wind farms only after full consultation with representative bodies of marine users.

One reason why I have been so alarmed at the way in which these matters have been dealt with hitherto is the extraordinary way in which the Crown Estate in particular and other government departments seem to have pressed ahead in the way I described earlier without consulting the various shipping industries, Trinity House, port authorities, and so on. We are now at a very late stage—we are already through round one of the consultations and there seems to have been remarkably little involvement with interests that might be concerned with safety and navigation. Those sites have actually been given permission, with all the problems to which I referred, particularly the question of whether the ships have to go round the wind farms rather than the wind farms being put out of the way of the ships. The noble Lord, Lord Greenway, and others drew attention at an earlier stage to the very real dangers that could result if those interests were not taken fully into account.

There is also the problem, which has been mentioned in earlier debates, of our international obligations. I find the present ministerial structure overall somewhat puzzling. However, I almost wonder whether one should not appeal to the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr John Prescott, on these issues, considering his long-standing interest in shipping matters. But we really must ensure that these various interests are fully consulted before any further consents are given. I stress the word "consents", because we have already reached the stage at which a diagram has been published by the Crown Estate showing that it has allocated particular sites to particular contractors. However, within those sites there is still the question of the environmental aspects being taken into account and an environmental impact assessment eventually being made.

One thing that has concerned the outside interests is that they have previously not been given full information about what is happening on the grounds of commercial confidentiality, between the Crown Estate on one side and those responsible for the proposals for the development of a particular site on the other. Safety must come first as far as that is concerned. If there are specific proposals, the outside shipping interests should be consulted ahead of any final decision being made. I hope that the Minister will give us a satisfactory reply and assure us that all these

20 Apr 2004 : Column 242

problems will be dealt with in future even though unfortunately—and alarmingly in some ways—they have not been dealt with previously. I beg to move.

9 p.m.

The Duke of Montrose: My Lords, I offer my support to the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, on the matter of consulting fishermen's interests. During the recess, I was talking to a gentleman connected with the fishing industry. He remarked that, as far as he knew, the Government had not conducted any formal consultations with the fishing industry, which the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, would require. Perhaps this is the time for that consultation to take place, but it would be reassuring to know that the Government were required to carry it out.

Lord Greenway: My Lords, I support the thrust behind the amendment, but I am bound to say that, as a result of what has already transpired at earlier stages of the Bill, the message has probably got through. There will certainly be much wider consultation with the marine industry for future rounds.

When one looks at the proposed sites for round 2, it is obvious that efforts have been made to try to position these offshore wind farms where they will not have too much effect on shipping. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, said, there are one or two glaring examples where they have been plonked in almost the worst possible place, where they could not affect shipping more—one in the Thames estuary and one off the Humber. Therefore there must be consultation with the interested marine parties before any licence to develop a site is given.

I take comfort from the fact that the Transport Select Committee in another place is due to examine the whole business of offshore wind farms on Wednesday next week, so further focus will be put on this matter. I support the thrust behind the amendment, but I feel that we have already stirred up enough interest in the subject for the amendment not to be necessary.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page