15. Overall Conclusion
15.1.1 The assessment presented in the HRA Report concluded that it is not possible to be certain of No Adverse Effect on Site Integrity, due to uncertainties that exist about the Plan and other plans and projects. These uncertainties relate to several aspects, including;
- The detail of the Sectoral Offshore Wind Plan implementation process;
- Future generation capacities;
- The location, scale and densities of development;
- The proposed technologies to be used, and future advances in these technologies;
- The scale of the effects arising via some of the defined impact pathways; and
- The efficacy of some project-level mitigation measures.
15.1.2 The level of certainty required under the Habitats Regulations to conclude that there will be no AEOSI cannot be achieved, as it cannot be guaranteed there will be no analysis gaps or a lack of evidence between the different assessment processes and methods leading to in-combination effects (even though each assessment considers these effects).
15.1.3 Based on lessons learnt and approaches followed in past plan-level HRAs, key mitigation measures are proposed in the Plan to provide the necessary assurances that the adopted Plan as whole will have no AEOSI on European/Ramsar sites, either alone or in-combination with other plans or projects. These mitigation measures include;
- The requirement for further project-level HRA and assessment;
- The application of iterative plan-review (to ensure the Plan remains reflective of current and emerging scientific knowledge and understanding);
- Development within individual POs being constrained to the assessed 'maximum realistic development scenarios' (which provide sufficient flexibility for further spatial planning at a project-level);
- The requirement for the completion of regional-level survey and assessment effort prior to development within POs E1 and E2, 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; and
- POs E3, NE2-NE4 and NE6 being classed as 'subject to high levels of ornithological constraint', whereby development cannot proceed until "such time that enough evidence on the environmental capacity for seabird exists to reduce the risk to an acceptable level". Development can only progress in these POs if sufficient scientific evidence can be provided to demonstrate this, unless it can be determined that there are imperative reasons of overriding public interest that require development to proceed and Scottish Ministers opt to pursue a derogation under the Habitats Regulations.
15.1.4 The central principle of these measures is that there needs to be a clear process for the implementation of the Plan. In particular, the process needs to involve a phased process and iterative process to further offshore wind deployment, linked to ongoing monitoring and research effort.
15.1.5 Each individual project will need to undergo project-level HRA (where possibility of LSE cannot be excluded on the basis of the currently available information), in accordance with the Habitats Regulations. These project-level assessments will reflect the precise location, scale, nature and design of the proposals, which cannot be predicted at this stage. This Plan-level AA, however, provides direction to these future project-level AAs and HRA, by identifying measures which may be required at a project-level to avoid AEOSI and potential impacts. The outputs of project-level assessments and associated monitoring will be used to inform the iterative plan review process for the Plan, to ensure that the Plan remains reflective of current scientific knowledge and understanding.
15.1.6 Applicants who are successful in obtaining Option and Lease Agreements via the ScotWind leasing round will need to re-examine the issues identified in the Plan-level HRA and this AA when progressing their proposals, to ensure that they adhere to the mitigation measures outlined therein. The exact manner of implementation of these measures will be identified in project-level HRA. It is recognised, therefore, that not all measures identified in the Plan-level HRA and this AA will be applicable to every proposed project.
15.1.7 Development within certain POs may pose a greater risk of impacts to designated sites and features, when compared to other POs, due to their proximity to designated sites (i.e. located adjacent to or within tidal excursion distance). Development located within these POs may, therefore, require the implementation of additional/more mitigation measures when compared to other POs - at possibly greater cost and time commitments for assessment, consenting and monitoring. Inherently, it is recognised that development located close to or within designated sites is more likely to have an AEOSI than development located further away. Mobile features from nearby and remote designated sites, however, may be present in POs and therefore, detailed assessment and consideration of mitigation measures (and their efficacy) will be required if such species are likely to impacted by the proposed development.
15.1.8 Cable routes and landfall points have the potential to cause both indirect and direct effects and further spatial planning at a project-level can mitigate these risks (i.e. by avoiding sensitive areas or timing of activity to avoid sensitive periods). There is no presumption within this HRA or the Habitats Regulations that designated sites will not or cannot be affected, although the risks of impact and associated requirement for mitigation measures are likely to be greater where designated sites may be impacted. It is, therefore, expected that developers will seek to avoid designated sites in the first instance.