Fears for birds over £450m sea energy park ease

THE Government’s wildlife adviser appears to have softened its stance over concerns that have been delaying a decision on a £450m marine energy park.

Offshore wind power

Able UK wants to build Europe’s largest offshore wind park on the south bank of the Humber – but the site it has chosen is one of the top sites in the country for black-tailed godwits.

In August the Government said it was “minded to approve” the plans, but asked for more information on measures to mitigate the loss of the mudflats, which are essential to the birds’ survival.

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It followed a warning from Natural England that there was a “substantial risk” that proposals to create new feeding grounds for the birds at Cherry Cobb Sands might not work.

But a spokesman for Natural England said yesterday: “Based on extra information provided, we have said there is a residual level of risk – a lower level of risk. The “regulated tidal exchange” which has been suggested is a novel approach in this country so we can’t be absolutely guaranteed that it will work. But the extra information gives us more confidence.

“Our view of the risk is that it is reduced – but it is not entirely without risk.”

No one was available from Able UK yesterday.

Agents for Able have, however, written to the Department of Transport to say they believe enough progress has been made on the two outstanding issues holding up the decision – the compensation measures for the birds and assurances that the project will not jeopardise the Killingholme Branch Railway – for the Secretary of State to grant consent. A final decision is due by December 18.

But the tenant farmer who stands to lose 250 acres of land at Cherry Cobb Sands to provide the new habitat, Stephen Kirkwood, said Able’s response was “virtually the same information as they had put forward before” providing little in the way of “new data or real science” to counter the concerns raised by the RSPB and Natural England.

He said: “I am not an ecologist, but I really cannot see how destroying a habitat necessary for the black-tailed godwits, without providing an immediate alternative habitat, would work.

“If the alternative habitat is not going to be functional for five to six years after the loss of habitat where are these black-tailed godwits going to go in the meantime?

“And if they can go somewhere else why is compensatory habitat needed at huge cost in the first place?”

His consultant Roger Morris, who has been involved in most of the major port development in England since 1998, said the Government was in a difficult position, Able having “simply provided more arguments that their proposal is acceptable”.

He said: “They haven’t advanced the science and to be perfectly honest I don’t think we can advance the science. It has not been tried and is a huge risk.”

The scheme which would represent the single biggest investment in renewables on the Humber so far, could see the creation of a new quay and facilities for the manufacture, assembly and storage of components for the vast wind farms planned for the North Sea.

Able has previously described its plans as a “once in a generation opportunity to transform the area and bring enormous benefits to the UK as a whole”.

The RSPB, which had previously raised concerns about the destruction of the birds’ habitat, has yet to respond.