Plans for Britain’s most controversial offshore wind farm are set to be rejected amid fears it would jeopardise the UNESCO World Heritage Site status of the Jurassic Coast, the Telegraph understands.
Developers of the proposed Navitus Bay wind farm are seeking planning permission to build up to 121 turbines in the English Channel near the Isle of Wight.
A decision is expected next week and the Telegraph understands that ministers are poised to reject the plans, following what is believed to be an unprecedented recommendation by the Planning Inspectorate that permission should be refused.
The move would be a major victory for campaigners including local Conservative MPs, some of whom fought the election on their opposition to the wind farm, as well as local authorities and the National Trust.
Opponents have argued that the turbines, which would each be 650 feet tall, would ruin views, damage tourism and could result in the Jurassic Coast losing its UNESCO World Heritage Site status.
Earlier this year Sajid Javid, then culture secretary, took the unusual step of intervening, saying it would be a “tragedy” if the wind farm were to spoil the “staggering natural beauty” of the area.
Mr Javid wrote to the Planning Inspectorate highlighting that UNESCO’s advisory committee had concluded “the development would put the UK in breach of the World Heritage Convention were it to be built”.
To date the independent Planning Inspectorate has considered 10 major offshore wind farms and recommended they all go ahead – decisions that have all been confirmed by ministers.
The Inspectorate made its recommendation on the Navitus Bay project to the energy department in secret earlier this year and Lord Bourne, the energy minister, has until Friday to issue his decision.
Conor Burns, MP for Bournemouth West and one of the leading opponents of the project, wrote to Lord Bourne ahead of the decision urging him to recognise the strength of local opposition to the project, with some 87 per cent of his constituents who responded to a survey opposed to the plan.
He said he believed that “offshore wind makes a very useful contribution to renewable energy generation” but that wind farms must be “in the ‘right’ place”. He warned that Navitus Bay could have a “devastating” impact on tourism.
Mark Smith, director of tourism at Bournemouth Borough Council, said rejection of Navitus Bay would help show that the Planning Inspectorate process was not merely “some sort of expensive charade”.
It is thought Navitus Bay would be only the second major offshore wind farm ever to be rejected planning permission in the UK.
The proposed Docking Shoal wind farm, which was decided under a previous planning regime, prior to the involvement of the Planning Inspectorate, was rejected by ministers in 2012 due to concerns it would kill too many seabirds.
Navitus Bay has attracted unprecedented controversy, with more objections lodged with the Planning Inspectorate than for any other offshore wind farm to date.
Its developers, EDF Energy and Eneco, submitted a ‘plan b’ scaled-back option last year involving fewer turbines but it is thought both plans will be rejected.
The National Trust had said that even the smaller proposal was unacceptable and it could not support proposals that would “seriously damage the beauty of our coastline”.
Asked about the project either this year, David Cameron said he understood why people felt so strongly about it, describing the area as “special” and “part of our heritage”.
The project’s developers say it could bring up to £1.6 billion in “economic benefit” to the local area and create up to 1,700 jobs during construction.
Stuart Grant, Project Director of Navitus Bay, said: “We believe in the strength of our proposal, which showcases how Navitus Bay would make an important contribution to the local economy and to the UK’s renewable energy and carbon reduction targets.”