18 southcoast clubs give overwhelming thumbs down to the massive 67-square mile Navitus Bay windfarm proposed to the west of Isle of Wight

A recent meeting of 18 south coast clubs from Portland to Cowes gave an overwhelming thumbs down to the massive, 67-mile2 Navitus Bay windfarm proposed close inshore to the west of the Isle of Wight. The attendees all left with a genuine warning that if concerned sailors want to influence planning decisions they must write to have opinions heard, and not just once but at every stage of the application process.

The next vital date is 3 April which concludes the second round of Community Consultations which in the first fortnight of February include road shows at local venues, some of which seem perhaps purposely poorly placed for public prominence. The public though need not have attended to submit opinions, the information is all on line (details below).

Hosted by Parkstone Yacht Club with presentations from the RYA and Challenge Navitus, a local campaigning group, the mood of the meeting was clear and Stuart Carruthers, Cruising manager of the RYA, said that in his eight years on task he’d never presented to such a crowd. But attendees were widely taken aback when Carruthers said the RYA was at this point not objecting to the windfarm per se but had pursued and was continuing to work with other statutory bodies to minimise risks to navigation.

The RYA’s thrust being that it’s better to be allowed transit through the windfarm than to be excluded from this vast sea area as could, he suggests, potentially happen if risks were expressed as being intolerable. To applause, one voice from the floor was heard to say: “I’ve paid my RYA subs for 35 years, I can’t believe what I’m hearing.” Some though seemed less troubled.

The RYA had originally in 2008, when the ‘zone’ was announced, approached Government with a list of objections, but Carruthers reported these as being swept away, offshore renewable energy being a core plank of policy. In conversation after the meeting, Carruthers reported further talks with current ministers but that the same view remains, which left the RYA [in its executive opinion as the national representative of recreational boating] to concentrate on making navigation safe, while welcoming the broader campaigning base of Challenge Navitus which is addressing loss of amenity and impact on environment as well as navigational concerns. The group emphasises this is not a campaign against windfarms, it is a campaign against the scale and inappropriateness of this particular proposal in such a sensitive area.

The developers, Navitus Bay Development Ltd (NBDL), a joint venture between Eneco of Holland and EDF of France, had recently announced a scaling back of plans with a southern shift of the northern boundary, but it was quickly established that the change is minimal and not based on reasons of amenity and public opinion as boasted by NBDL to win over the public, but purely on navigational grounds after a challenge from the RYA, Trinity House and the MCA. Bizarrely the original plan overlaid the northern boundary within the sector light of Hurst Point at the western entry to the Solent. Yet even now the developers appear still to be in error: they seem to have redrawn the bounds exactly along the southern sector light limit with no buffer zone either for the light or, it would appear, the MCA-recommended two nautical mile safeguard.

Quoting directly from MCA guidance note MGN372: “At close range, however, the trials showed that they [windfarm turbines] may produce multiple reflected and side lobe echoes that can mask real targets. These develop at about 1.5 nautical miles, with progressive deterioration in the radar display as the range closes. Where a shipping lane passes within this range considerable interference may be expected along a line of turbines. Target size of the turbine echo increases close to the turbine with a consequent degradation of target definition and bearing discrimination… mariners are warned that there is a consequent risk of losing targets with a small radar cross section, which may include buoys or small craft, particularly yachts or GRP constructed craft, therefore due care should be taken… where adequate safe water exists it may be prudent in planning the voyage of larger vessels to set tracks at least 2nm clear of turbine fields.”

These findings were made in 2004. In a Community Consultation last year, Eneco’s UK Director Guy Madgwick stated to the public present when questioned that there were no records of windfarms negatively affecting radar. Like many of Eneco’s statements, veracity and provenance seem worth checking. The RYA is already in “furious dispute” with Eneco for abuse of RYA survey data used without permission and out of context to paint a misleadingly favourable picture.

Beyond this, it seems that having a leading light sector effectively skimming a ‘wall’ may well be dangerous. Surely vessels need room to manoeuvre away from their target course in both directions to avoid collisions?
Also, if a ship is on the Hurst leading light, it will be so close to the windfarm that its radar may well be degraded, especially in the direction of the farm. Therefore it may fail to spot a target ahead or, even worse, exiting the windfarm across its track. Also, at night with the confusion of lights from the farm and the visual obstruction of turbine towers it could be tricky to spot a small boat about to pop out into the channel. It may sound a little sensationalist but this is a bit like children running out from behind parked cars, and imagine this in poor visibility.
This risk is not restricted to small vessels exiting the windfarm either. The same problem can occur at the corners of the farm even if the vessels are outside. From this, one can’t help but feel having defined commercial routes too close to the boundary is begging for a collision.

The RYA’s Carruthers says he, too, is still very unhappy with this and is seeking a further redrawing of this northern boundary by NBDL.

Meanwhile, Challenge Navitus is concerned also with the western boundary as a potential concentration of east bound craft avoiding transit through the windfarm could force a new and at times crowded channel impinging Poole’s fast cat Condor Ferries service passing close by the western edge at speed in a degraded radar zone. No-one was available for comment from Condor Ferries at the time of writing.

During the meeting, Langley presented a very clear perspective of the development’s physical impact. In its current plan at 67 miles2, with up to 218 turbines 200m tall, it covers an area half the size of the Isle of Wight, a quarter again taller than the island’s highest point. And how visible will this be? The MCA remarks in guidance note MGN372 that from 3-metre eye height a 150m turbine will be visible for 28 nautical miles. With the windfarm’s likely turbines 50m greater in height and starting just nine of those 28 miles offshore, these turbines will seem huge, and they are. They dwarf the City of London’s Gherkin building.

Britain’s tallest cathedral, Salisbury, easily fits between the tips of just two blades. And the sweep of each turbine at 24,329m2 is quite literally the size of 3.5 football pitches. This is no small offshore windfarm. Currently it’s the world’s largest yet, contributing just 3% to the UK’s long term target, this proposal is not do or die for the Government. It could be dropped.
To objectors this is one case where size does count… and seriously.

For more information visit the sites of Challenge Navitus and developers NBDL:
www.challengenavitus.org.uk; www.navitusbaywindpark.com

The Challenge Navitus website provides the quickest, simplest route to understanding the process and how, when and who to write to.

First step for locals might be to visit the road shows. Headcount and opinions voiced (as well as written) are all part of the consultation process:

West Moors Memorial Hall, 231 Station Road, West Moors, Ferndown, BH22 0HZ, Friday 1 February 2013, 2pm – 8pm;
Bournemouth International Centre, Bourne Lounge, Exeter Road, Bournemouth, BH2 5BH, Saturday 2 February, 10am – 4pm;
RNLI Lifeboat College, West Quay Road, Poole, BH15 1HZ, Wednesday 6 February, 2pm – 8pm;
New Milton Community Centre, Osborne Road, New Milton, BH25 6EA, Thursday 7 February, 2pm – 8pm;
Lymington Community Centre, Fuller/McLellan Hall, New Street, Lymington, SO41 9BQ, Friday 8 February, 2pm – 8pm;
Cowes Yacht Haven, Vectis Yard, High Street, Cowes, Isle of Wight, PO31 7BD, Saturday 9 February, 10am – 4pm;
Christchurch Council Chambers, Bridge Street, Christchurch, BH23 1AX, Tuesday 12 February, 2pm – 8pm;
St Edwards Church Hall, Victoria Avenue, Swanage, BH19 1AH, Wednesday 13 February, 2pm – 8pm.