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Conservationists fight to save coast from giant wind farms

Conservation experts have admitted that a stretch of Yorkshire’s coastline is facing up to its biggest ever challenge to preserve it from the multi-billion pound off-shore wind farm industry.

The world’s largest off-shore wind farm is due to be built nearly 80 miles off the Yorkshire coast at Dogger Bank to generate up to 10 per cent of the nation’s electricity.

While the industry’s arrival has been heralded as a once-in-a-lifetime economic opportunity, conservationists say that the environment must not be sacrificed.

The need to ensure that the coastline is not swamped by development to support the wind farm industry also comes amid the biggest ever shake-up of marine conservation.

A summit meeting next week will discuss strategies to protect the 40 miles of coastline between Redcar and Filey.

Representatives from local authorities and the North York Moors National Park Authority as well as Natural England and the Environment Agency will gather in Scarborough for the meeting.

The North Yorkshire and Cleveland coastal projects officer, John Beech, said: “We are faced with some of the biggest changes along the coast we have ever seen.

“The arrival of the wind farm industry presents fantastic opportunities, but every effort needs to be made to ensure that it is handled correctly.

“This stretch of the coastline is the jewel in the crown of the North-East, and we must make sure that it is adequately protected.”

Next week’s meeting of the North Yorkshire and Cleveland Coastal Forum is seen as the most important in its nine-year history.

The Marine and Coastal Access Act, which was introduced in 2009, is now shaping how conservation is handled off the UK’s coast.

Marine Conservation Zones, including one for the North Sea, are being introduced as a result of the legislation, while efforts are under way to improve water quality to meet new EU regulations.

From 2015, all bathing waters will need to meet these standards which are approximately twice as stringent as the current regulations.

It was announced in November last year that Yorkshire Water had joined forces with the Environment Agency and local councils to improve the region’s beaches and bathing waters to meet the new European directive.

But the impending arrival of the off-shore wind farm industry is seen as perhaps the biggest challenge.

It is hoped that thousands of jobs will be created as coastal towns including Scarborough and Whitby play a significant role in supporting the industry.

The wind farm, which is expected to include about 2,600 giant turbines each up to 400ft tall, will stretch across an area of more than 3,300 sq miles – equivalent to the size of North Yorkshire, England’s largest county.

While the first turbines are not due to become operational until 2016, major environmental surveys are already under way off the coast and planning applications could be submitted as early as next year.

The Yorkshire Post revealed in June that Scarborough Borough Council had launched a major public consultation to shape development along the coast to cope with an unprecedented period of economic opportunity.

As well as the off-shore wind farm, plans are also being drawn up for a major potash mine centred on the North York Moors National Park.

The mine is expected to create up to 5,000 jobs.

A multi-national firm, Sirius Minerals, has secured the mineral rights for more than 150,000 acres of land between Whitby and Scarborough as it looks to establish the potash operation.

The mineral is an essential component of fertiliser, and exploratory drilling work is currently being carried out to pinpoint the best location for the proposed mine.

The scale of development in the area will be a key topic of discussion during the summit meeting on Friday next week.

The coastal forum’s annual conference will take place at the Woodend Gallery in Scarborough from 9.45am.