Ministers are planning to boost efforts to establish large numbers of windfarms off the Westcountry coast in a bid to massively increase the amount of renewable energy that the region produces.
Rules for licensing offshore turbines and tidal power generators are expected to be relaxed as part of a series of measures to tackle the threat of global warming.
But the moves will be coupled with extra protection for the most endangered marine habitats, with up to 90 “no-go” zones across the country.
Falmouth Bay in Cornwall and Lyme Bay in Devon are among the areas which could be considered for the new protections.
Last night fisheries minister Ben Bradshaw said: “I don’t think renewable energy development and protecting marine environments are polar opposites.”
Launching a White Paper on proposals for the Government’s Marine Bill, the Exeter MP said the new protections were of “particular importance to the South West”.
“Our marine environment is under increasing pressure from all sorts of activities – transport, aggregate dredging, fisheries and renewable energy development,” he said. “What it should mean for areas like the South West is we are better able to protect our most precious marine diversity.”
The proposals would create powers to designate the most highly protected marine areas, similar to those off Lundy where lobster and crab populations have increased as a result of fishing restrictions.
Eight new protection areas will be consulted as part of the initial plans, but Defra officials predict up to 90 sites – both large and small – could eventually fall under the designation.
Previous agreements – including the protection area off Lundy – have been made without legislation as a result of reaching consensus with all those affected. But the new legislation would mean even where there was some opposition, the Government could still throw a no-fishing zone over a designated area.
Jim Portus, chief executive of the South West Fish Producers’ Organisation, said the progress and outcome of the consultation would be watched closely by the industry.
“We will want to be certain that the decisions are being made on the best information,” he said. “I am sure we are going to see a network of marine protected areas but they have got to have very good reasons for existing. But from the point of view of the fishing industry we have got to be assured that the social and economic consequences of these protected areas have been properly considered and taken into account by ministers.”
Alternative areas and resources will need to be made available “if individual commercial fishermen are displaced”, he added.
The White Paper also proposes streamlining the planning process for offshore wind farms and tidal wave sites to encourage growth in the renewables sector. Mr Bradshaw said there was “massive potential” in the Westcountry to harness the power of the sea and wind. He said: “We are in the lead internationally on wind and tidal. I don’t want us to lose that. It is a huge challenge. No other country is doing this.”
The current process of applying to develop a windfarm offshore will be cut from three licensing stages to just one. There are currently no advanced plans for offshore windfarms in the region but the Renewable Energy Foundation last year insisted that turbines sited at sea were more efficient than onshore developments.
Laura Yates, from Greenpeace, said: “If this streamlines the planning process for offshore renewables, that’s great news. Offshore wind in particular can play a vital role right now in our efforts to tackle climate change.
“The UK – the windiest country in Europe – has huge potential which is lying untapped, and lots of that is off the west coast of Britain. We need to move as quickly as possible to harness that resource, given the urgency of climate change.”
By Matt Chorley
16 March 2007
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