Sectoral marine plan: post adoption statement
Sets out the changes between the draft and final sectoral marine plan for offshore wind energy in accordance with Section 18(3) of the Environmental Assessment (Scotland) Act 2005 (“the 2005 Act”).
A SEA update note
A.1 Implications of updated Plan Options / data
This note reviews the SEA in the context of changes made and new information pertinent to the assessment reviewed subsequent to the release of the Draft Plan and associated documentation for consultation in December 2019.
There are two key changes that require consideration. Firstly, as a result of the iterative process following completion of assessments and further consultation, the decision has been taken to modify the spatial areas included as Plan Options in the final Plan. The implications of these are considered in Section A.1.1 below. Secondly, an update to foraging ranges for key seabird species was released in January 2020, the implications of which are considered in Section A.1.2 below.
A.1.1 Updates to DPOs
The changes that have been made to the DPOs (Figure 2) following consultation of the Draft Plan for Offshore Wind Energy to finalise the Plan Options (Figure 3) are summarised below. The implications of these changes on the conclusions of the SEA are also discussed.
Areas removed (SW1 and NE5)
SW1 has not been chosen for progression as a final Plan Option, due to concerns regarding the potential scale of negative socio-economic impacts in this region (including negative impacts on seascape, landscape and coastal character). Potentially significant impacts associated with development in SW1 were identified within the SEA on birds, navigational safety, sediment transport and coastal processes, and visual effects.
The removal of SW1 will eliminate the potential for these effects to be realised in this region. Whilst a number of these impacts have the potential to be realised in any Plan Option area (coastal processes, sediment transport), SW1 was considered one of the sites most susceptible to visual impacts, and thus removing SW1 may reduce the overall potential impact of the plan on visual amenity, albeit that this will be dependent on which other sites are taken forward by developers as a preference. Similarly, there were a number of key navigational routes which transected the site and thus removal of the site may remove the overall effects of the plan on navigational safety.
Whilst a number of the identified Plan Option areas have potential effects on bird populations, SW1 was considered to have potential cumulative impacts on whooper swan populations migrating up the west coast with the currently operational Robin Rigg array. Removal of this site may therefore reduce the potential for cumulative impacts on this species associated with the Plan.
NE5 DPO has not been chosen to progress as a final Plan Option due to the potential cumulative impacts on the fishing sector arising from development in this DPO, in-combination with existing and consented projects and other DPOs. Potentially significant effects associated with development in NE5 identified within the SEA were on bird species, visual receptors and navigational safety, particularly in-combination with other operational offshore wind arrays and Plan Option areas in the Moray Firth.
The removal of NE5 reduces the potential for such cumulative effects. However, given that sites remain within the Moray Firth and surrounding area, potential for cumulative effects arising as a result of the Plan remain, and therefore the temporal mitigation encompassed within the Plan by which further research is required prior to development at Plan Option areas NE2, NE3, NE4 and NE6 remain.
The removal of DPOs will clearly avoid the potential for significant effects within these areas, and the assessment contained within the SEA for these direct impacts can thus be disregarded. However, the removal of these DPOs increases the proportion of development which might be expected in other regions in order to achieve the objectives of the Plan. Given the maximum likely scale of development assessed in each Plan Option area and the regions, development under this plan is considered likely to fall within these, and therefore removing the two areas is not considered likely to change the assessment of development within the remaining areas and regions.
Areas Modified (W1, NE1, NE2, NE3, NE7, NE8 and E1)
W1 DPO has been chosen for progression as a final Plan Option, but has been reduced in area across all boundaries, in order to mitigate potential negative impacts on a range of sectors, including commercial shipping and seascape, landscape and coastal character. The SEA identified potential for significant negative effects on seabed habitats, marine mammals, fish, sediment transport and coastal processes, and visual effects associated with development in W1.
The modification of W1 has the potential to reduce the potential effects at the site, particularly where it has been modified to avoid the key shipping route at the westernmost extent, reducing potential risk to navigation and to increase the distance of the boundary from land potentially reducing impacts on visual amenity. Similarly, the increased distance from land may reduce the potential for impact on seal species which may haul-out on Islay and which have the potential to be disturbed by development. However, given that the potential maximum development is unlikely to have changed the overall scale of impacts is unlikely to significantly differ as a result of the modification.
NE1 DPO has been chosen for progression as a final Plan Option, but the portion of the site which overlaps with Shetland Island Council's works licensing jurisdiction has been removed to reduce potential administrative burdens. The SEA identified potential significant effects associated with development in NE1 on seabed habitat, spawning fish, marine mammals and sediment transport and coastal processes. The modification of NE1 is not considered to impact on the conclusions of the SEA.
NE2, NE3, NE7, NE8 and E1 have been chosen for inclusion as final Plan Options, but have been reduced in area in order to avoid the areas of highest existing fishing activity highlighted by the fishing sector. In the case of NE3 the fishing sector had proposed a greater reduction in the area of the DPO; however, this would render the site commercially unviable and limit opportunities to mitigate impacts on other receptors (as required) at a project-level. The SEA identifies potential for a range of significant effects associated with development within these 5 DPOs. The key risks are associated with bird species, navigational risk and spawning fish.
The modifications made to the 5 sites are not considered to significantly change the conclusions of the SEA, as development in the remaining area has the same potential effects, and the scale of potential development, and hence scale of effects, has not change.
A.1.2 Updates to foraging ranges
In January 2020, during the consultation on the Draft Plan, an updated synthesis of seabird tracking studies was published as part of The Crown Estate's Round 4 Enabling Actions programme (Woodward et al., 2019). The new data incorporates the tracking studies considered by Thaxter et al. (2012), and those undertaken from 2012 to 2019. This latest 2019 study provides updated foraging ranges for a number of seabirds, including the provision of a foraging range for Great Black-backed Gull which had not featured in the previous 2012 study. In particular, this latest study has identified significant increases in the mean maximum foraging ranges for Black-legged Kittiwake, Razorbill, Great Skua and Great Black-backed Gull.
The SEA assessment of potential effects on bird species was not explicitly based upon foraging ranges, although they formed part of the underlying evidence, and key conclusions were based upon either observed or modelled distribution-at-sea data. Therefore, whilst the increased foraging ranges have the potential to increase the perceived risk to a species at any given site, it is not considered that this would have a material effect on the conclusions of the SEA which identifies potential risk to foraging birds at the majority of the Plan Option areas and which recognises the requirement for project level assessment to consider the best available data.
A.1.3 Further information raised during consultation
During consultation, stakeholders had the opportunity to identify further information that should be considered as part of the plan development. The majority of the information highlighted referred to non-designated bird colonies adjacent to the SW1 DPO. Had this site been retained a review of the assessment in the light of this data would have been undertaken.
Other comments were noted by consultees, including additional data on landscape / seascape and migratory fish. These have been reviewed and whilst these may have minor impacts on the assessment at individual sites, it is considered that they do not impact on the conclusions of the SEA and that the inclusion of such information in project level assessment will support the conclusion of no significant adverse effect.
The conclusions of the SEA have been reviewed in light of the changes made following the issue of the documents in the development of the Plan Options and further information released during the consultation phase and / or provided by consultees.
It is concluded that these changes and additional information do not change the conclusions of the SEA that, when considered at a national scale, there is potential for up to 10 GW of offshore wind to be installed in Scottish waters without significant adverse effect on the environment.
This conclusion is based on the implementation of both plan and project level mitigation, designed to avoid significant adverse effects and support the continued development of the evidence base which will inform the assessment of future developments.
There remains significant uncertainty regarding the potential size, design and location of arrays, and the size and technology selection of individual turbines. Therefore, notwithstanding the above conclusion, comprehensive project level assessment will be required against the specific characteristics of the proposed development and the baseline environment at that location.
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