Energy Bill [HL]

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:54 pm on 23rd March 2004.

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Photo of Lord Greenway Lord Greenway Crossbench 3:54 pm, 23rd March 2004

My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 172, I wish to speak also to Amendment No. 184 which stands in my name and that of the noble Lord, Lord Higgins.

In Grand Committee, again in consort with the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, I moved an amendment regarding the safety of navigation in respect of the establishment of offshore wind farms. The amendment arose from concerns felt in the shipping and ports industries, including Trinity House which is responsible for marking our navigation lanes around the coast.

The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, who answered on that occasion, conceded that safety of navigation was a serious matter. I do not think that any of us would disagree with that. However, he nevertheless argued that the concerns expressed were already covered by existing legislation. Since then further meetings have taken place with the industries and the Government, as a result of which further amendments, to which I now speak, have been brought forward. I should say at the outset that the first amendment was originally tabled in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, who I am pleased to see in his place. That was a procedural ploy as the noble Lord could not be here last night. Therefore the amendment appeared in my name. It is covered in the generality of what we are discussing in this grouping, but he will forgive me if I do not speak specifically to his amendment as I am sure he is quite capable of doing that himself.

Amendment No. 184, which would insert a new clause in the Bill, is designed to meet those concerns from the shipping and ports industries that still exist even after further discussions with the Government. The points covered in the amendment on which I seek assurances from the Government are as follows. The first is the question of consultation. The industries are very worried that they were not consulted early enough in the process of granting licences for offshore wind farms. They would like the Government to publish details of the most heavily used shipping routes for the assistance of would-be developers. They would also like the Government to negotiate possibly a memorandum of understanding on consultation with shipping and ports interests before any further sites are offered for tender.

The industries felt that they were not properly consulted under round one of the offshore wind sites licences. As a result certain sites were proposed such as the one off Cromer where three existing shipping lanes will have to be altered to accommodate a wind farm. The inshore route will become much more difficult. It is one that ships use when there are very strong winds from the west. The middle lane will be moved to go round the wind farm and that pushes it further out to sea and much closer to the third lane, thereby in my view increasing the risk of possible collision.

The industries consider that there is also a need for much more technical study to be carried out into the adverse effects of wind farms on shore and ship radar, radio and other electronic communications systems. An amendment tabled in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, deals specifically with that subject. I shall leave it to him to fill in the details on that. Suffice to say that we should like the Government to give us an assurance that they will commission a study into the effect of wind farms on marine radar and radio communications systems, including the combination effects of these structures.

The industry would also like to see the use of traffic management tools to enable offshore renewable energy installations and shipping to coexist in safety. In Grand Committee I mentioned the use of shipping clearways that were used in the early days of the offshore oil industry. The Government have indicated that they already have the necessary tools to do this, but I should like an assurance from the Minister that any traffic management systems that may be introduced will be required to conform to international standards and that, as a direct result of the establishment of offshore renewable energy installations, they will be financed by the developers. Furthermore, the industry feels that there is a need for a common regime in territorial waters and the renewable energy zones. These are the zones extending beyond our territorial waters where offshore wind farms can be set up. We seek an assurance that the Government will, in practice, apply Article 60(7) of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea when considering the establishment of installations in territorial waters, as well as the REZs. Finally, there is a need for a pragmatic approach in applying Article 60(7) of UNCLOS, and we seek assurance from the Government that any deviations that may be required of ships—I mentioned an instance earlier—will be kept to a minimum.

I wish to mention one further very important point. In Grand Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, mentioned the Transport and Works Act 1992 and the difficulties involved with that. Industries are seeking an assurance from the Government that they will give full consideration to issues of safety of navigation before installations are consented to, both under the Transport and Works Act and the Coast Protection Act 1949. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, made great play of the Coast Protection Act in his remarks in Grand Committee, but there is another avenue for would-be developers to follow: the Transport and Works Act, which does not require them to look at the interests of safety of navigation. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, will expand on that as well.

It is worth mentioning what other countries are doing in respect of this. Denmark, Germany and Holland are taking their responsibilities for the safety of navigation very seriously and have commissioned studies. Indeed, I was reading about one in Lloyd's List, the shipping newspaper, only this morning, whereby a company has been taken on by the German navigation authorities to put a test structure on one of their proposed wind farm sites out in the North Sea, to monitor the density of shipping movements. Our Government should be doing that. It is what I might describe as a precautionary approach. It seems to me that the Government are hell-bent on rushing forward to meet their commitments of 10 per cent renewable energy by 2010, whereas other countries are taking a more careful approach and are looking into aspects such as the safety of navigation.

On the precautionary matter, there is the suggestion that back in 1986, when the North Sea oil and gas development was going on, it was UK practice to avoid licensing not only inside traffic separation schemes but also within 10 miles of them, in case ships went off course. We all know that ships do go off course; ships break down; ships—it is widespread knowledge—are run by officers whose standards are not what they were 15 or 20 years ago. There have been quite a number of incidents where ships have run into well-known structures. In the old days, for instance, they were forever clouting the odd light-vessel in the Thames approaches and the Channel. We had the incident of the Norwegian car carrier, the "Tricolor", which went down just over a year ago after a collision in the North Sea. Shortly after that, at least three ships ran straight onto that wreck. Even when it was properly buoyed and permanently patrolled by ships, one ship a week ran through that exclusion zone. That says a lot about modern standards of navigation, and thereby hangs the worry. It would take only one incident of a ship—through collision, or whatever—running into one of these wind farms, perhaps catching fire, causing widespread pollution, to cause a huge furore in the national press and everywhere. I do think that the whole aspect of the safety of navigation is something we should look at very carefully indeed.

I hope that the noble Lord who is to reply will be able to give me some of the assurances that I have asked for. I beg to move.