5. Plan adoption, implementation and Action Plan
Following the conclusion of the consultation period, the draft Plan may be refined further. If comments received during the consultation process require substantial changes to the draft Plan, further consultation may be required. The final Plan will be presented to Ministers for approval and will be published and adopted as soon as possible thereafter. Implementation of the Plan will require the successful integration of the following measures;
- Key considerations;
- Implementation of identified Plan-level mitigation measures; and
- The delivery of key actions.
5.1 Key considerations
These issues will need to be considered as the Plan progresses:
5.1.1 Community and stakeholder engagement
The successful implementation of the Plan will require the Scottish Government to continue with stakeholder engagement which has been undertaken to date to support the planning process. It is critical that communication with stakeholders continues beyond the adoption of the final Plan. This engagement will not be restricted to the membership Advisory Group and Governance Board (which will be formed post-adoption to facilitate the implementation of the Plan).
At a strategic level, the Scottish Government will undertake further and ongoing engagement with the shipping, defence, aviation, renewables and commercial fishing sectors. Developers will also be expected to engage in these discussions, particular around issues such as cumulative assessment, socio-economic impacts and commercial fisheries.
Developers will be required to undertake the necessary project-level community and stakeholder engagement. In particular, further engagement with local stakeholders will be required by developers in relation to DPOs located closer to shore (where seascape, landscape and visual impacts are likely to be of greater concern).
5.1.2 Project level assessment
Proposals for offshore wind development within the DPOs will still be subject to the standard leasing, licensing and consenting processes and the need for further project-level assessment. This may include environmental impact assessment in accordance with the Electricity Works (Environmental Impact Assessment) (Scotland) Regulations 2017 (as amended) and the Marine Works (Environmental Impact Assessment) (Scotland) Regulations 2017 (as amended). Licensing decisions will be taken in accordance with the National Marine Plan and further detail on these processes are contained in the Licensing and Consenting Manual. Project-level assessment will benefit from certainty regarding the type, location and scale of technology to be deployed within a particular DPO, which is currently not available at a Plan level. Project-level assessment will identify any appropriate mitigation measures to reduce, avoid or offset any potential adverse effects, or maximise positive effects.
Discussions with stakeholders and regulatory bodies will identify the relevant best practice guidance to be adhered to (during all phases of development) and the methodologies and data to be utilised in any impact assessments.
In addition, the HRA identifies the legal requirement for individual projects to undergo HRA as a key mitigation measure (to avoid adverse effects on site integrity). Where likely significant effects on any European site(s) or European marine site(s) cannot be excluded, the competent authority will be required to undertake a project-level Appropriate Assessment.
The outputs of future project-level assessments will be used to support the iterative plan review for the Plan.
5.1.3 Cumulative and in-combination effects
Further assessment work will be required to identify and address cumulative and in-combination effects of offshore wind developments. For example, issues such as scheduling of work(s) within Scottish Waters will need to be carefully monitored. In addition, there is the need to ensure that project-level and strategic-level cumulative and in-combination effects are taken into account as part of project-level assessment and the iterative plan review process.
Developer-led work should contribute to addressing these issues in a suitable and effective manner and the Scottish Marine Renewables Energy Research ("ScotMER") programme is also considering potential research work to address these issues.
5.1.4 Review – monitoring and research
As the deployment of offshore wind energy expands, further survey and monitoring data and research will become available, which will be used to inform industry best practice and standards, including assessment methodologies.
Developers are required to gather and submit monitoring data to the licensing authority as part of their marine licence and/or section 36 consent conditions. The structure and process for gathering such data is directed by the licensing authority, in consultation with the SNCBs and/or via the relevant Regional Advisory Group ("RAG") and is also linked to the ScotMER programme. It is anticipated that these research and monitoring outputs will inform the iterative plan review process and future assessment(s).
5.2 Plan level mitigation measures
The application of appropriate mitigation measures is key to the sustainable development of offshore wind. As outlined in Section 4 above, development within the identified DPOs may still result in potential negative environmental, social and economic impacts. The SA, therefore, recommends that mitigation measures are implemented to reduce or avoid these potential impacts. This includes requirement for further project-level assessment and application of project-level mitigation measures (see further, Section 4.7 of the Sustainability Appraisal), as well as the implementation of plan-level mitigation measures, which are applicable across all, or some, DPOs (dependent on the nature and scale of the impacts).
At a plan level, there are a number of measures which can be implemented to either reduce the effect associated with development under the Plan or offset any significant effects. The following plan level mitigation has been proposed for the draft Plan:
- Limiting the total scale of operational development under the Plan to 10 GW nationally;
- Limiting the total scale of operational development within each DPO to the maximum realistic development scenario set out in the SEA;
- Requiring spatial planning within individual DPOs, to reduce so far as is reasonably practicable effects on environmental receptors;
- The application of iterative plan review to ensure the Plan remains current and informed by up-to-date scientific understanding and knowledge;
- Requiring project-level EIA and HRA; and
- Collaboration between governmental bodies, Non-Governmental Organisations ("NGOs") and industry on research issues to determine a consistent and comprehensive evidence baseline.
The HRA concludes that the Plan will not result in an adverse effect on the site integrity of any European site(s) or European marine site(s), provided that further project-level HRA and Appropriate Assessment is undertaken and the mitigation measures below are adhered to.
It should be noted that, the regional scenarios presented in the SA, have been used to provide an indication of potential impacts of all phases of development at a regional level, however, these regional scenarios will not be used to constrain potential levels of operational development within DPOs.
5.2.1 DPOs subject to high levels of ornithological constraint
Figure 14 DPOs subject to high levels of ornithological constraint
The HRA has identified that development within DPOs NE2-6 and E3 (as shown in green in Figure 14) will, or could, result in an adverse effect on site integrity of European site(s) and/or European offshore marine site(s), due to the potential in-combination impacts on seabird qualifying interests from these sites. The HRA report concludes that development should not proceed at these DPOs, "until such time that enough evidence on the environmental capacity for seabird exists to reduce the risk to an acceptable level." These DPOs have therefore been classified as being subject to 'high levels of ornithological constraint'.
It is proposed, therefore, that development will only be able to progress at DPOs E3 and NE2-6 where sufficient scientific evidence can be provided to reduce the risk to an acceptable level (unless it can be determined that there are imperative reasons of overriding public interest that require development to proceed). This scientific evidence would thereby facilitate either;
a) Revision to the Plan (via the iterative plan review process) which removes the requirement to produce sufficient evidence; or
b) The granting of a licence or consent for the project, where it can be concluded by the competent authority that there would be no adverse effect on the integrity of any European site(s) or European marine site(s).
It is anticipated that it will take several years to gather and assess the necessary evidence regarding environmental carrying capacity in the East and North East regions. The conclusion of adverse effect on site integrity is based on the currently predicted (modelled) levels of development/activity and impact in these regions. In the event that further evidence demonstrates that these modelled impacts can be revised downwards (i.e. further carrying capacity exists in these regions), it may be possible to conclude at a Plan or project-level that development could proceed at certain, or all, of these DPOs, without resulting in an adverse effect on site integrity.
Developers may choose to pursue licence and consent applications for projects within these DPOs, but should note that pursuing projects in this region is at their own risk. It is likely that, given the current predicted levels of cumulative impacts in these regions and until such time as further evidence is provided which demonstrates carrying capacity in these regions, it will not be possible for the competent authority to conclude that development will not result in an adverse effect on the integrity of any European site(s) or European marine site(s). Where this conclusion is reached, no licence or consent can be granted, unless the Scottish Ministers allow a derogation to proceed under Article 6(4) of the European Habitats Directive.
Figure 15 provides an overview of the proposed processes.
Figure 15 Application process - DPOs subject to higher levels ornithological constraint
5.2.2 DPOs subject to the need for further regional level survey and assessment (E1 and E2)
The HRA report advises that, for respect of DPOs E1 and E2, it cannot currently be concluded with certainty that the cumulative impacts of development on key seabird species would not have an adverse effect on site integrity. This is due to;
- Uncertainty regarding the potential scale of cumulative impacts in this region on seabird species (resulting from collision, displacement and barrier effects); and
- A lack of information regarding seabird densities and behaviours in the offshore region during the non-breeding season.
Further regional-level survey work and assessment is therefore required in order to identify and assess the potential impacts of construction, operational and decommissioning activities in DPOs E1 and E2. This regional survey work should cover the region(s) which will be likely impacted by the development and should not solely be limited to the DPO area or the offshore region in which the DPO is located.
This regional level survey and assessment work is required in addition to site-specific survey effort and analysis work required as part of the standard application and assessment process, as it addresses wider knowledge gaps relevant to the assessment of cumulative impacts and potential impacts during the non-breeding season. This regional level survey work and assessment should be carried out by, or on behalf of, the parties who are successful in obtaining Option Agreements for these DPOs.
This regional level survey and assessment activity could incorporate, for example, an initial study to identify foraging areas for key seabird species SPA populations and at-sea densities, using assessment tools, approaches and evidence likely to be available soon. This study could then be supplemented by regional level survey effort, if required, which could incorporate elements such as aerial surveys or possibly seabird tagging work at key colonies. It is anticipated that the timeframes associated with this work will be less than those associated with the reconsideration of environmental carrying capacity outlined for DPOs NE2-6 and E3 above (as outlined above at 5.2.1).
Any developer which secures an Option Agreement for DPOs E1 and/or E2 should discuss and establish the parameters of the required survey work and the assessment of survey outputs with the Advisory Group. Developers may choose to pursue licence and consent applications for projects within these DPOs without completing this work, however, it should be noted that, given the level of scientific uncertainty regarding the level of potential cumulative impacts on key seabird species in this region, it is likely that the competent authority would be unable to conclude that development would not result in an adverse effect on the integrity of any European site(s) or European marine site(s). Where this conclusion is reached, no licence or consent can be granted, unless the Scottish Ministers allow a derogation to proceed under Article 6(4) of the European Habitats Directive.
5.3 Iterative plan review
The final Plan will be subject to iterative plan review and management following adoption. The application of iterative plan management will ensure that;
- the Plan and the underpinning assessments are informed by the best available and most up-to-date scientific research and understanding, including outputs of project-level assessments and monitoring;
- the Plan accurately reflects spatial/regional context (i.e. level of construction, operational, and other activity within the region) and potential transboundary impacts; and
- that the Plan reflects the prevailing market conditions, technological advancements and regulatory environment (including connections to the national grid and coastal infrastructure).
To support the iterative review process, an Advisory Group will be established upon adoption of the final Plan, to consider the implications of emerging research, evidence and assessment methodologies (as outlined above). Further detail regarding the Advisory Group is provided at Section 0.
The iterative plan review process will be informed by project-level assessment and post-consent monitoring (for consented and operational wind farm projects). As monitoring data is collected, it will be used to validate the conclusions of project-level assessment and the Sustainability Appraisal. The iterative plan review process will also consider the level of current and planned activity within the DPOs, regionally and nationally and potential transboundary impacts.
In addition, it is anticipated that the Plan will be initially reviewed after two years, to consider emerging monitoring and research evidence, the wider policy, market and regulatory context and if required, to provide an updated spatial framework for any future CES leasing round. Each iteration of the Plan will be informed by any new and relevant information and research regarding the environmental, economic and social impacts of offshore wind and the effectiveness of any mitigation measures.
5.4 Advisory Group
As outlined above, an Advisory Group will be established upon adoption of the Plan, to;
- identify gaps in scientific knowledge and understanding, including the assessment of impacts at both a plan and project level, across a range of receptors, and the requirement for further research to address said gaps; and
- implement the iterative plan review process
Specifically, in relation to ornithology impacts;
- the level and type of scientific evidence which would be necessary to conclude whether or not the level of ornithological risk associated with development at DPOs E3 and NE2-6 falls within acceptable limits; and
- the scope and requirements for regional surveys and research related to DPOs E1 and E2.
The membership of the Advisory Group will primarily be drawn from the ScotMER Ornithology Receptor Group, which includes; regulators, SNCBs, government scientific advisors and academics. Where other receptors are the subject of discussion, members of the relevant ScotMER receptor group(s) will be invited to provide input.
It is expected that developers who are successful in obtaining Option Agreements for DPOs E1 and E2 should meet with the Advisory Group to discuss the parameters of the required regional-level research and survey work, prior to commencing any such work.
The Advisory Group will also discuss and consider whether the production of new, or revision of existing, strategic guidance is required (for example, updates to the 2014 Guidance on Strategic Assessment of Collision Risk of Scottish Offshore Windfarms to Migrating Seabirds) and how this work can be enabled.