Conservative MPs have joined thousands of residents in objecting to plans for a giant offshore wind farm they fear will blight one of the most attractive stretches of Britain’s coastline.
Plans to build 194 wind turbines, each up to 650ft high, off the coast of Dorset, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight have prompted widespread opposition from people who fear they will ruin magnificent views and damage tourism across much of what has come to be known as the Jurassic Coast.
More than 2,800 people registered their views on the Navitus Bay wind farm scheme by the time a consultation period held by the Planning Inspectorate closed, with around 90 per cent thought to have objected to the plans.
Now the area’s MPs have voiced their own opposition – claiming any benefits offered by the wind farm in terms of jobs would be outweighed by its impact on a treasured landscape.
Their warnings came after UNESCO said the World Heritage Status of the Jurassic Coast, which stretches along 96 miles of Dorset and East Devon coastline, could be withdrawn if the Navitus Bay scheme goes ahead.
Plans for the development were submitted in April, with its supporters claiming it will contribute £1.6bn to the economy over 25 years, and generate power for up to 700,000 homes.
But Richard Drax, the Conservative MP for South Dorset, said: “It beggars belief that anyone ever thought of putting a wind farm of this size and complexity here, so close to shore. We know already that it will have far reaching repercussions, way beyond anything the developers’ environmental impact report has acknowledged. For example, it has been independently calculated that the construction, with its resulting sediment disturbance, will affect 5 million square metres of seabed.
“Add to that a number of as yet unexplored effects, including constant sound, ultra low frequency hum, light flicker, rain shadows, radar shadows and the physical obstacles to bird and marine life and the scale of the problem becomes clearer.”
Mr Drax added that the wind farm would have a hugely detrimental impact on tourism, one of the area’s main industries.
He said: “Tourism is of critical importance to Dorset. We welcome 14 million visitors a year and most of them will visit the seaside at some point. Every one of them will be able to see a forest of pylons offshore if this proposal goes ahead. UNESCO say that Navitus Bay would ‘adversely impact’ views from the main visitor site at Durlston Point, where the wind farm would replace the Isle of Wight as the dominant feature on the horizon. Just think about that. Up to one hundred and ninety four pylons the height of London’s ‘gherkin,’ dwarfing our views of the Needles.”
Others objecting to the plans include Robert Syms, MP for Poole, Christopher Chope, MP for Christchurch, and Bournemouth MPs Tobias Ellwood and Conor Burns.
Mr Ellwood said that although he supported the principle of offshore wind farms, as having the potential to supply the UK with a clean and renewable source of energy, the proposed sighting of Navitus Bay would be “completely inappropriate”.
He added: “There would be enormous visual intrusion to the detriment of Bournemouth and other locations along the coast. The setting of the World Heritage Site, known as the Jurassic Coast, would be compromised by the unattractive array of wind turbines and offshore electricity substations.”
Mr Ellwood also said the turbines would pose a danger to yachts and sailing boats in the area and to the thousands of birds, including swallows, house martins and meadow pippins, who migrate south along a path which would include a path through the site of the wind farm
Unesco wrote to the Government last month warning that the Navitus Bay project would have an adverse impact on important views of what is the only natural site in England which enjoys World Heritage Status.
It stated: “Any potential impacts on this natural property (the Jurassic Coast) are in contradiction to the overreaching principle of the World Heritage Convention. The property will change from being located in a natural setting largely free from human-made structures to one dominated by human-made structures.”
The Tory group on Poole Borough council said a survey showed a “significant majority” of local residents were opposed to the plans with “major concerns” including the visual impact, sustainability, and possible effect on tourism and the marine environment.
Elaine Atkinson, Conservative group leader, said the coastline was in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), adding: “To place an inefficient industrial complex slap bang in the middle of it offends common sense. Whilst we support renewable energy, far too many concerns remain unanswered and the questionable benefits are far outweighed by the negatives,” she added.
Opponents say the wind farm would need “massive subsidies” and would only have a life of 25 years, while the sea bed and immediate area would be affected for hundreds of years.
But Mike Unsworth, the project director for Navitus Bay, said polls conducted by independent researchers, along with feedback from local residents, “indicate majority support” for the scheme. He also said the proposed farm would have a “significant positive impact” on the local economy.
In response to UNESCO’s warning, the Department of Culture, Media and Sport stated: “Our overall conclusion, on the basis of the evidence presented so far, is that while the proposed wind farm will have some impact on the World Heritage property, there should be no significant impact on outstanding universal value.”
The Planning Inspectorate now has nine months to examine the scheme’s proposals before making a recommendation to the Secretary of State for Energy as to whether it should be given the go-ahead.