United Kingdom

United Kingdom

Questions over National Trust response to RWE project

Visual impact of Atlantic Array continues to raise concerns

One of the UK's largest and most influential charities, The National Trust, continues to raise concerns about the Round 3 Atlantic Array wind farm, due to its expected impacts on sea views from shore. But the strength of the charity's opposition remains unclear.

RWE npower renewables' Atlantic Array wind farm is planned for a site in the Bristol Channel, with a draft environmental impact assessment (EIA) currently open to public consultation. Consultation will close on 31 August, with the energy company hoping to submit a planning application towards the end of the year.

The National Trust says a mistake was made when the UK Crown Estate chose the site for the Atlantic Array. "The location chosen for the Atlantic Array development has not taken sufficient account of environmental factors or the sensitivity of the nearby coastline," said Mark Harold, National Trust's south west regional director, in July, marking the beginning of the latest round of consultation .

The National Trust owns large sections of the north Devon coast, as well as sites on the south Wales coast. It also owns Lundy Island in the Bristol Channel. If built, Atlantic Array would be visible from some locations on both coastlines and would have a significant visual impact on Lundy Island.

Local press in south west England recently quoted the National Trust as describing the plans for Atlantic Array as "alarming" and "industrial scale", suggesting that the charity will press the UK government to rule against the project, on the grounds that it is located in an unsuitable area.

However, these strong words in opposition appear to be unattributed and in marked contrast to the more restrained language of the National Trust's statement of early July. Windpower Offshore has been told by a National Trust spokesperson that the earlier, more measured statement "still stands". In it, Harold says: "There are many considerations to take into account. The role of the National Trust is to stand up for the importance of special places in people's lives... We will need to take a careful look at the proposals for the impact they could have."

In May, RWE responded to concerns expressed by the National Trust and others by announcing revisions to its design for Atlantic Array. Chief among these was a significant reduction in the total number of turbines, which will now be between 188 and 278, rather than the previous maximum of 417. It has also increased the project's distance from shore. Decreasing the number of turbines will also lower the project's generating capacity, which is now forecast to be 1-1.5GW. The upper limit of 1.5GW would only be achievable if 8MW turbines were used, which RWE says is a possibility.

Issuing a statement today, RWE emphasised that the changes announced in May mean that the "horizontal view of the wind farm from the closest points of north Devon have...been significantly reduced by approximately 40%." It also point outs that a "second round of public exhibitions" about the project, held recently, attracted 961 visitors. Their feedback "will be used to further shape our final submission to the Planning Inspectorate."

While offshore wind has strong support from the UK public, one well-advanced project, Docking Shoal, was recently blocked by the government, due to concerns about cumulative impacts on a protected bird species. These concerns were represented by another of the country's most powerful charities, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). Public resistance to onshore wind projects has increased in some parts of the UK, with visual impacts a key issue. This resistance has led to some onshore wind farm applications being refused and a considerable number more being modified.

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