Robin Rigg Offshore Wind Farm (Navigation and Fishing) (Scotland) Bill

– in the Scottish Parliament at 4:00 pm on 26th June 2003.

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Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative 4:00 pm, 26th June 2003

As soon as I can find the right point in my script, we will move to debate on motion S2M-121, in the name of Mr Tom McCabe, on the Robin Rigg Offshore Wind Farm (Navigation and Fishing) (Scotland) Bill.

Photo of John Home Robertson John Home Robertson Labour 4:15 pm, 26th June 2003

Last June, the Robin Rigg Offshore Wind Farm (Navigation and Fishing) (Scotland) Bill was the first private bill to be introduced in the first session of our first Parliament in 300 years. It was overtaken by the National Galleries of Scotland Act 2003, but today it becomes the first private bill to be considered and—possibly—enacted in our second session.

I should explain that I was a member of the committee that scrutinised the bill and that my role is to move the motion that the bill be passed; I have nothing to do with the bill's promotion, because private bills are, of course, introduced by a private promoter—in this case, Offshore Energy Resource Ltd and Solway Offshore Ltd—who seeks to obtain powers or benefits that are in addition to, or in conflict with, the general law.

I must highlight the role of my colleague Tom McCabe in the bill's consideration. He was the convener of the Robin Rigg Offshore Wind Farm (Navigation and Fishing) (Scotland) Bill Committee, which was charged with the examination of the bill, and he was the main player in its scrutiny and consideration. He kept everyone—including Jamie McGrigor, Mike Rumbles and the witnesses—in order and he brought great style to the quasi-judicial proceedings and to the administration of formal oaths.

The fundamental purpose of the bill is to make it possible to construct the first offshore wind farm in Scottish waters. We have wind and waves in abundance around Scotland's coastline, so there might well be a case for developing renewable energy initiatives to exploit that massive potential. However, as the member for East Lothian, I must observe that there will always be a need for excellent base-load electricity generators, such as the power stations at Torness and Cockenzie, to avoid the risk of power cuts. There can be no doubt that, for the foreseeable future, nuclear power will remain the best way of generating electricity for homes and businesses throughout the United Kingdom without emitting greenhouse gases.

I must get back to renewable energy.

Photo of Bruce Crawford Bruce Crawford Scottish National Party

Does the member agree with my arithmetic on the number of megawatts of electricity that are produced in Scotland? The total capacity is 9,500MW, of which nuclear power is responsible for only 2,500MW. Our peak winter demand is 6,000MW. Those figures suggest that, even without nuclear power, the lights would not go out; they certainly did not go out when Torness was down for a considerable number of weeks.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

Although we have a reasonable amount of time, we should not be broadening out the debate beyond—

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

I know who started it, but let us not continue in that direction.

Photo of John Home Robertson John Home Robertson Labour

I apologise; I was taking liberties. I am in favour of exporting electricity from Scotland and of creating jobs in Scotland. The Parliament would expect me to make that point.

In their memorandum, the bill's promoters have rightly stated that Scotland has

"the most productive onshore and offshore wind energy resource in Europe."

Members of all parties will agree that we should encourage the development of that plentiful source of natural energy as a valuable supplement to the nation's supply of electricity.

Before I turn to the bill's purpose, I will describe the processes that we have gone through to reach the final stage and I will comment briefly on the nature of the private bill process. The bill was introduced almost exactly a year ago, on 27 June 2002. There followed an obligatory 60-day objection period. We had a preliminary evidence session in Dumfries on 11 November. The preliminary stage concluded on 9 January, when the Parliament agreed to the general principles of the bill and decided that it should proceed as a private bill. The Robin Rigg Offshore Wind Farm (Navigation and Fishing) (Scotland) Bill Committee scrutinised the bill at the consideration stage. We held a meeting in Kirkcudbright on 24 February; we met again on 6 and 11 March; we reported our findings on objections to the bill on 14 March; and amendments were considered at a final meeting of the committee on 26 March. The bill has therefore been subjected to careful and detailed scrutiny.

I have already made the point that the Robin rigg bill was the first private bill to be considered by the Parliament and I believe that the committee and our officials and lawyers have done a careful and thorough job. We took time and care to listen to objections to the bill and to address concerns and comments. Sometimes those issues were complex and technical—from radar technology to wave patterns—and on other occasions they were rather more straightforward.

What does the bill do? It provides for the regulation of the construction and maintenance of a wind farm, and for that purpose it establishes a statutory authority for the promoters to interfere with the public right of navigation and fishing. The promoters are seeking to build an offshore wind farm consisting of 60 wind turbines on the Robin rigg sandbanks, located 8.5km from Balcary point in the Solway firth.

The bill does not give authority for the building of the wind farm or for the generation of electricity. It is only one of several applications relating to the proposed wind farm. Others considering those applications include the Scottish Executive and relevant authorities in England at local and national level. The promoters described the bill as

"part of a jigsaw of consents and authorities being sought" and the private bill process was something of a puzzle for those of us who served on the Robin rigg committee. We are a little wiser now, but I ask colleagues to refer any vexing technical or procedural questions to the non-Executive bills unit, where they will find clever people who understand that sort of thing.

On behalf of the committee that considered the bill I express gratitude to a lot of people.

First, thanks are due to the promoters of the bill, Offshore Energy Resource Ltd and Solway Offshore Ltd, for their thoroughness in preparing documents and willingness to fully engage in a process that is new to all of us. They caused us some anxiety when it emerged that they had inadvertently based some of their evidence on technically inaccurate information, which made it necessary to hold a further session to get it right. We are now satisfied that their case is well founded.

We thank all those individuals and bodies who submitted objections to the bill. We intended the process to be open and accessible, and we took careful account of all relevant concerns. We thank the expert witnesses who ably informed our more difficult deliberations. Finally, we thank the staff of our non-Executive bills unit, who made the whole thing work with characteristic charm and efficiency.

I would also like to personally thank my colleagues who took part in the specially constituted private bill committee for their diligence and good humour. The bill meant a significant commitment of time and energy in the run up to an election and those colleagues' devotion to duty should be noted. They are: Tom McCabe, who was filling in time between ministerial posts as convener of the committee; Colin Campbell who has sadly left the Parliament; and Jamie McGrigor; and Mike Rumbles, who are sadly still members of the Parliament.

Before concluding, I must give a quick summary of the main issues addressed by the committee. On 9 January, when Tom McCabe spoke in advance of the consideration stage of the bill, six areas were outlined for further work.

First was the minimum clearance between the lowest point of any rotor blade and the level of high water. The committee took a considerable amount of evidence on that, including a specially convened extra meeting. The safety of seafarers and the dangers of collision are obviously matters of serious concern. After much detailed examination we concluded that the 18m minimum clearance set by the promoters was acceptable, subject to the establishment of an active management system—AMS—that would enable the turbine blades to be shut down within 60 seconds by a remote controller in the event of any emergency. Details of the AMS were subsequently provided for by amendment to the bill.

Secondly, and linked in safety terms to my first point, was the navigational risk assessment with particular regard to the risk of collision with leisure craft. It was concluded that the risk was low, but not negligible, and that it could be minimised by appropriate marking and effective notification as planned by the promoters. The committee also took the view that the precautionary principle should be applied to that aspect of the bill.

The third point was the potential impact, if any, on the operation of global positioning systems and radar. Members who know about electromagnetics will understand those matters better than I. Briefly, radio, radar and VHF communication might be marginally affected in the immediate location of the wind farm, but GPS should not be affected. The committee welcomed the further testing by the promoter, and endorsed plans to mark and light the structures as indicated to assist any vessel in trouble to identify and report its position clearly.

Fourthly, as I have already explained, before we took section 5 out of the bill this afternoon, the committee was concerned about risks that could arise from vessels seeking to navigate among the turbine structures, risks to the wind farm equipment, risks to people working on the construction and maintenance of the equipment, and risks to the mariners concerned. Section 5 would have provided for an exclusion zone at Robin rigg, but it obviously makes far more sense to set a UK framework for clearly enforceable exclusion zones around wind farms throughout the territorial and adjacent waters of the United Kingdom. That is now going to be done by the Secretary of State for Transport who, by happy coincidence, also happens to be the Secretary of State for Scotland. That is the best way to provide the necessary protection for such sites.

The fifth issue was the important matter of ensuring that structures and equipment are properly cleared from the Robin rigg site whenever the wind farm is decommissioned. The committee concluded that a third-party bond should be put in place to provide insurance against the costs of decommissioning and removal. That provision was added to the bill by amendment, and has been further strengthened by amendment 2 today.

The sixth and final point related to the significance of fishing in the affected area. I will resist the temptation to defer to Jamie McGrigor, the committee's resident nephrop, on this point, but I can report that the people representing fishing interests who had initially lodged objections to the bill—mainly from Cumbrian fishing communities—withdrew their objections after reaching agreement with the promoters.

The committee has given this potentially valuable initiative very careful consideration, and on that basis I move,

That the Parliament agrees that the Robin Rigg Offshore Wind Farm (Navigation and Fishing) (Scotland) Bill be passed.

Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party 4:27 pm, 26th June 2003

I will be brief, as I think that most members would rather be elsewhere. Clearly, chairing the committee brought its reward to Mr McCabe.

I welcomed the bill at its preliminary stage. The committee strengthened it significantly and well at consideration stage, with the new sections on the active management system, consultation and decommissioning. Those all came out of committee considerations, so they are valuable.

I have already said today, and I will not reiterate it at length, that I am unhappy with the deletion of exclusion zones. That is a regrettable diminution of the quality of the bill, but it is not fatal to it.

Having said all that, I welcome the Robin rigg project. I hope that it will set a trend for a large number of renewable energy projects of all kinds, not just wind farms. They are vital if we are to counter the likely prospect of climate change. The project is large, and it and other projects have the potential to bring large numbers of jobs to areas where they are in short supply.

I hope that the developers are able to fill the funding gap that I understand they are experiencing at the moment as a result of the financial difficulties of the firm TXU, and that the project goes ahead as soon as possible. I suspect that it will proceed much quicker than any legislation on this area at Westminster.

Finally, any proposal of this kind always results in local objections on the ground of amenity. They are not the subject of this bill, and should not influence a vote on it, but it is worth pointing out that, even in the local area, just as many people supported the development. However, as is the nature of this kind of thing, we always hear the people who are against, and we rarely hear the people who are in favour. The people who supported this development did so because of a commitment to the need for and the desirability of renewable energy.

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson Conservative 4:29 pm, 26th June 2003

I now have to divert from my previous agreement with Alasdair Morgan, I am afraid, but he will not be surprised about that.

Having just dealt with the final stage amendments to the Robin Rigg Offshore Wind Farm (Navigation and Fishing) (Scotland) Bill, to give it its full title, I want to express my disappointment that there was not one more amendment to debate. While I quite understand that it was deemed to be outwith the remit of the bill, I tried to lodge an amendment that, in effect, would have meant that the bill could not have been enacted until the project itself had been subjected to the full and open scrutiny of a public inquiry.

I have always backed that view. It is one that is shared by all three local authorities north and south of the Solway, Scottish Natural Heritage, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and others, including the vast majority of my constituents, who are the people who will be most directly affected by the proposal. The background to the removal of section 5 from the bill this afternoon exacerbates the need for such an inquiry. I make a last-ditch plea to the Executive to hold one.

Just after the election, I listened with interest to a televised debate between Lewis Macdonald and Rosie Kane on the subject of the M74 extension. During the debate, the minister said something to the effect—I cannot quote him accurately, but I am sure that he will tell me if he did not say words to this effect—that it was right and proper that the people who are affected by major proposals should have the opportunity to be able to air their views and have their concerns listened to.

Only last week, the Minister for Transport, Nicol Stephen, issued a press release on the announcement of the inquiry into the M74 extension. In the release, the minister said

"The proposed completion of the M74 is a very significant transport project and it is right that those who have concerns are given the chance to have their say."

The Robin rigg wind farm is a very significant renewable energy project and yet, apparently, it is not right that those who have genuine concerns are given the chance to have their say.

Another project in Galloway and Upper Nithsdale proposes the construction of a waste transfer station in the town of Dalbeattie. The local council approved the plan by the narrowest possible vote, but the local area committee of the council voted against it. The Scottish Executive magnanimously granted an inquiry into that proposal and yet the Robin rigg proposal is denied one, despite opposition from the Executive's environmental advisers, Scottish Natural Heritage, the local authorities and the other organisations that I mentioned earlier.

The decision defies belief—it smacks of a big brother mentality. It is all the more unbelievable when one realises that not one kilowatt of electricity from Robin rigg will come to Scotland. I presume that that means that the project will not count towards Scotland's renewable energy production target.

I will close by reaffirming what I said in the stage 1 debate. I am not anti-wind farm. However, the concerns of many of my constituents, coupled with the dubious background to the removal of section 5 from the bill this afternoon, forces me to vote against the bill. That is virtually the only way that is open to me to express my dissatisfaction at the undemocratic handling of the bill. I urge others to do the same.

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Conservative 4:32 pm, 26th June 2003

It will not surprise Alex Fergusson to find that I will also be voting against the bill. I accept that we are debating only an enabling measure for the project, but the vote on the debate is our one opportunity to express opposition to the project. The debate allows us to reiterate the fact that the expressed view of the local council and the people of Galloway and Upper Nithsdale—certainly those who voted on 1 May—is against the proposal. The equivalent of 60 Blackpool towers will be put into the Solway between areas of scenic beauty in Dumfries and Galloway and the fringes of the Lake District. Surely that is worthy of a public inquiry.

I have complimented the process and Mr McCabe's handling of the meetings that took place in Dumfries and Kirkcudbright. The positive aspect of the process was to see the committee going out to the local people. It is disappointing that the process has been undermined this afternoon by what amounts to a back-door deal with the Department for Transport. That department, the Executive and others should have raised issues in the full glare of local public scrutiny and not behind the scenes.

I will be brief. My view of the project has not changed since the comments that I made in the stage 1 debate. Members can read them in the Official Report. I agree with John Home Robertson on one issue, which is the nuclear issue. The Chapelcross nuclear power station has provided an enormous boost to the economy of Dumfries and Galloway in its 40 years of safe operation. The Robin rigg project will not add a single penny to the local economy, but we will have to take all the pain of the blot that it will make on the landscape.

Photo of Lewis Macdonald Lewis Macdonald Labour 4:34 pm, 26th June 2003

The Executive strongly supports the full development of our renewable energy resource. Renewable energy forms an important plank in our climate change programme. It will make a considerable contribution to our ability to meet our international commitments to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. More than that, it will make a significant contribution to our policy of ensuring a competitive, diverse and sustainable electricity supply.

As John Home Robertson said in his opening remarks, today's debate is about the subjects covered by the bill; it is not about the consents processes, which at least two of the members who have spoken have talked about. The proposed wind farm at Robin rigg has now received consents from the Scottish ministers under the Electricity Act 1989, the Coast Protection Act 1949 and environmental protection legislation. The project will now make a significant contribution to achieving our renewable targets.

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson Conservative

I accept what the minister says about the bill not being about the project itself. However, will he take this opportunity to tell me what the difference is between those who have genuine concerns about the Robin rigg project and those who have genuine concerns about the M74 extension?

Photo of Lewis Macdonald Lewis Macdonald Labour

Each and every application for a consent, whether under the Electricity Act 1989, road traffic legislation or planning legislation, must be considered on its merits. In making their decision, the Scottish ministers took into account the responses of statutory consultees, the environmental assessment and the objections that were made. We reached a decision, as it is appropriate that we should do.

We recognise the potential that renewable energy has to create employment and economic development opportunities, not least in rural parts of Scotland. There is already the example of the Vestas-Celtic Wind Technology Ltd plant at Campbeltown in Kintyre, which has created more than 150 jobs. The Cambrian Engineering (Cymru) Ltd site at Arnish on the Isle of Lewis will also create jobs where they are much needed. Although it is early days, good work is being done to attract to Dumfries and Galloway manufacturing jobs that arise as a result of the Robin rigg wind farm project.

Photo of Robin Harper Robin Harper Green

I did not get my question quite right earlier. Does the minister agree that, if the electricity from Robin rigg had been connected to Dumfries and Galloway, all the spare capacity in the area would have been taken up, thus making it impossible for other renewable projects, not simply wind farms, to be put in place in the south-west of Scotland?

Photo of Lewis Macdonald Lewis Macdonald Labour

That is why the capacity to deal with additional renewable energy generation in the south-west of Scotland, as elsewhere, is so important. However, it is worth noting that the electricity that is generated in the Solway firth in Scottish waters will contribute towards Scotland's targets for renewable energy generation, as well as towards those for the United Kingdom as a whole.

There are other prizes to be won in the form of the jobs that we could secure if Scotland were to obtain a leading position in the development of industries based on marine energy technologies. That is why the Executive is funding the marine energy test centre in Orkney and the establishment of the energy intermediate technology institute in Aberdeen. Robin rigg will not be the last that we hear of renewable energy in Scottish waters.

As John Home Robertson said, the bill was the Parliament's first private bill and the committee must take great credit for its work in dealing with a process that was new to the Parliament. The thoroughness with which the committee scrutinised the bill and its attention to detail in its hearings has had wider benefits.

That is most obvious in two respects. One, which we have discussed at some length, relates to safety issues in the construction of a series of large structures in the Solway firth for the generation of renewable energy. The issues that the committee raised have, as we have discussed, resulted in agreement between United Kingdom ministers and Scottish ministers about the need for enforceable safety zones in and around offshore energy installations.

The second matter, which was also dealt with by an amendment, relates to the decommissioning and full restoration of the site once the wind farm has been decommissioned. In respect of the Robin rigg wind farm, that is covered by a condition to the consent issued by the Scottish ministers under the Electricity Act 1989. It is also covered by the bill in the terms that we have discussed. Scottish ministers undertake to discuss with our UK counterparts any wider implications for future wind farm construction in Scottish and UK waters. We will take those matters forward.

The committee's work in those areas demonstrates the advantages not only of devolution to Scotland, but of the good governance of the UK. Those are significant achievements. The Robin rigg private bill committee and the Parliament's committee system deserve great credit for those achievements and the Scottish ministers support the passage of the bill as amended today.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat 4:40 pm, 26th June 2003

I thank members for their contributions to the debate. Particular thanks go to John Home Robertson for his kind words about Jamie McGrigor and me.

Presiding Officer, you will note how non-partisan we were on the committee. We were full of humour—I think that is how Tom McCabe described it to me when we had finished our work. We took a genuinely non-partisan approach throughout our work. The committee members took a quasi-judicial role and we were selected because we had no direct interest or influence in the area, as was appropriate. It is a matter of sadness, however, that that non-partisan approach was not reflected in what went on in the chamber when we were discussing the final stage amendments.

The committee members and objectors to the bill both influenced the process markedly. The active management system was introduced to allow the promoters to increase the blade heights of the turbines to improve the efficiency of the wind farm. There was a thorough examination of navigation risk to small recreational vessels, which would probably never have occurred otherwise. We examined the effect of the proposals on radar to ensure the safety of vessels in the area. We established that there was a requirement for exclusion or safety zones—whatever one wants to call them—for the safety of all involved. Those measures will now be applied to all the developments in UK waters, which is to be commended.

We were satisfied that the concerns of fishing interests were adequately scrutinised. We put in place adequate markings and notifications to the satisfaction of local mariners. We also put in place stringent decommissioning requirements, which have been strengthened further by the amendment agreed to today.

I thank those who gave evidence to and assisted the committee in its work. Succinctly, I commend the bill to Parliament.