5. Plan adoption, implementation and Action Plan
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 maintain the high level of 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 of the Technical Advisory Group and Programme Board (which will be formed post-adoption to facilitate the implementation of the Plan (see further, section 5.4).
At a strategic level, the Scottish Government will undertake further and ongoing engagement with the renewables, commercial fishing, shipping, defence and aviation. Developers will also be expected to engage in these discussions, particularly 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 POs 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 POs will still be subject to the standard leasing, licensing and consenting processes and the need for further project-level assessment. The Plan will guide the relevant consenting bodies when making decisions on individual licence and consent applications, but should not be considered as pre-determining those decision-making processes.
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 relevant regulations and the National Marine Plan. 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 PO, 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 project-level 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 process 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 and addressed at a project-level. 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 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 any 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 POs 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 SA), as well as the implementation of plan-level mitigation measures, which are applicable across all, or some, POs (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 measures have been applied:
- Limiting the total scale of operational development under the Plan to the assumed physical footprint for 10GW of generation as assessed in this Plan;Limiting the total scale of operational development within each PO to the maximum realistic development scenario set out in the SA and above;
- Requiring spatial planning within individual POs, 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 and stakeholder 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 POs or at a regional scale.
5.3 Ornithology-specific plan-level mitigation measures
There are two different forms of ornithology-specific plan-level mitigation measures included within this Plan. These are applied in order to avoid any potential adverse effects on the site integrity of any European site(s) and/or European offshore marine site(s), in line with the requirements of the Habitats Directive. These measures apply to Plan Options located in the East and North East regions, as shown in Figure 16, as a result of the currently modelled level of negative cumulative impact on further offshore wind development on key seabird species. The iterative plan review process, as outlined in this document, will consider whether there is sufficient evidence to remove or amend these mitigation measures, on the basis of emerging scientific evidence and understanding, and in consultation with relevant stakeholders.
5.3.1 Plan Options subject to high levels of ornithological constraint (E3, NE2, NE3, NE4 and NE6)
The HRA has identified that development within POs NE2, NE3, NE4, NE6 and E3 (as shown in green in Figure 16) 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 POs, "until such time that enough evidence on the environmental capacity for seabirds exists to reduce the risk to an acceptable level." These POs have therefore been classified as being subject to 'high levels of ornithological constraint'.
Development, therefore, within Plan Options E3, NE2, NE3, NE4 and NE6 can only progress 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 application of this mitigation measure at a Plan level; 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).
The removal of DPO NE5 has had no bearing on the continued application of this mitigation measure in the North East region. Whilst the risk of in-combination effects on black-legged kittiwake may be reduced by the removal of NE5, there remains uncertainty regarding whether this is sufficient to avoid an adverse effect on site integrity if development were to progress in the neighbouring Plan Options. Furthermore, new data, suggests that key bird species may forage at greater distances than originally expected, thereby increasing the likely presence of birds from identified SPAs at the more distant POs (e.g. NE6). The AA addresses this in more detail. This mitigation measure, therefore, continues to apply to neighbouring POs NE2-4, NE6 and E3, in line with the precautionary principle.
It is anticipated that it may take several years to gather and assess the necessary evidence regarding environmental capacity in the East and North East regions with respect to the key bird species. 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 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 POs, without resulting in an adverse effect on site integrity.
Whilst these mitigation measures are in place, developers may choose to pursue licence and consent applications for projects within these POs, but should note that pursuing potential projects in this region may be subject to high levels of ornithological constraint. 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.
5.3.2 Plan Options subject to the need for further regional level survey, research and assessment (E1 and E2)
The HRA report advises that, in respect of POs 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 and research work and assessment is therefore required in order to identify and assess the potential impacts of construction, operational and decommissioning activities in POs 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 PO area or the offshore region in which the PO is located.
This regional level survey, research 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, research and assessment work should be carried out by, or on behalf of, the parties who are successful in obtaining Option Agreements for these POs via the ScotWind leasing process.
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 POs NE2, NE3, NE4, NE6 and E3 above (as outlined above at 5.3.1).
Any developer which secures an Option Agreement for POs E1 and/or E2 should discuss and establish the parameters of the required survey work and the assessment of survey outputs with the Ornithology Working Group (as detailed in section 6.2). Marine Scotland will then provide direction as to the scope and format of the survey, research and assessment work and how the outputs should be provided. This process is outlined in Figure 17.
Developers may choose to pursue licence and consent applications for projects within these POs 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, this runs the risk 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 may be granted, unless the Scottish Ministers allow a derogation to proceed under Article 6(4) of the European Habitats Directive.
5.3.3 Routes to consenting
Whilst potential applicants may choose to pursue licence and consent applications for POs E3, NE2, NE3, NE4 and NE6, before the removal of the mitigation measure outlined above, it should be noted that, due to the uncertainty regarding the level of potential impacts, the competent authority may be unable to conclude that the project will not have an adverse effect on site integrity. Applicants may also choose to submit licence and consent applications without completing the regional level survey, research and assessment work required for POs E1 and E2, however, the competent authority may be unable to conclude that the project will not have an adverse effect on site integrity and the competent authority may consider that there is not sufficient information available to process the licence and consent application without prior completion of this survey, research and assessment effort. Any developer who wishes to pursue a licence or consent application on these terms should be aware of these potential risks.
Figure 17 below provides an outline of the Scottish Ministers' preferred consenting routes for these Plan Options.
Figure 17 Description:
- Defining the scope
- Autumn 2020 -Ornithology Working Group established upon adoption of the Plan.
- Ornithology Working Group participates in the Roadmap and Programme of Works Research Projects to inform the necessary scope of works.
- Advice & direction
- Option Agreements awarded by Crown Estate Scotland.
- Ornithology Working Group meets with relevant Option Agreement holders to discuss scope of necessary research and survey work and assessment methodologies. Working Group provides advice to Programme Board regarding scope of work. Programme Board considers advice and confirms requirements.
- Marine Scotland provides advice to Option Agreement holders regarding the scope and nature of work required.
- Undertake work
- Option Agreement holders undertake necessary survey and research work as directed (can be completed in conjunction with site-specific surveys).
- Outputs should be provided to the Ornithology Working Group in the manner prescribed (including interim-reports, as requested).
- Iterative plan review
- Option Agreement holders pursue licence and consent applications, informed by the outputs of this research work.
- Outputs from regional-level survey, research and assessment work informs the iterative plan review process.
- Outputs will also inform licensing and consenting decisions.
5.4 Iterative plan review
This Plan is subject to iterative plan review and management, to 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).
Section 11.5 of the HRA Report provides an outline of the proposed iterative plan review cycle (for the first 2 years of the Plan's lifespan). To support the iterative review process, a Technical Advisory Group will be established upon adoption of the final Plan, to consider the implications of emerging research, evidence and assessment methodologies. In addition, an Ornithology Working Group will be established, to specifically consider ornithology evidence gaps identified via the planning process. A Sectoral Evidence Group will also be established to enable input from marine sectors affected by the Plan.
The iterative plan review process will be informed by the best available scientific information, 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 POs, regionally and nationally and potential transboundary impacts, as well as stakeholder input from other marine sectors.
In addition, it is anticipated that the Plan will be subject to review, 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. Currently, CES have indicated their intention to progress another leasing round around 24 months following closure of this cycle of ScotWind.
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. Final decision making power regarding the Plan and any revisions will continue to rest with Scottish Ministers.
Further detail regarding the governance structure for the implementation of the Plan, is provided at section 6.2.