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27 October 2021

Offshore Wind Leasing Round 4 programme update

Offshore Wind Leasing Round 4 continues to progress and, in line with the process, the six proposed offshore wind projects are currently being collectively assessed for their potential impacts on protected habitats - an important step in helping to conserve the UK’s marine and coastal environment. 

Offshore Wind Leasing Round 4 offers the opportunity for 8 GW of new offshore wind projects in the waters around Wales and England by the end of the decade. Earlier this year, The Crown Estate announced that it had selected six proposed new offshore wind projects in the waters around England and Wales which together represent just under 8 GW of potential new offshore wind capacity with the opportunity to deliver clean electricity for more than seven million homes and create employment opportunities across the country.  

Assessing impact on protected sites 

Before awarding seabed rights, it is a legal requirement to undertake a ‘Plan-Level Habitats Regulations Assessment (HRA)’ – an assessment of the potential impacts of Offshore Leasing Round 4 on the most valuable environmental habitats in the UK, which make up the ‘UK National Network’. A HRA is a rigorous, evidence-based approach which follows a process set out in law. It is not specific to offshore wind – it must be completed for any plans or projects, such as major housing developments, roads and airports, where they could affect protected habitats.

Where HRA is required, a plan or project can only go ahead if: 

  • It does not adversely affect the integrity of any UK National Network site or; 
  • where such an impact can’t be ruled out, there is no alternative solution to progressing the plan or project and there are imperative reasons of overriding public interest to proceed.  In such cases, compensatory measures must be  agreed to ensure the overall health of the UK National Network is maintained. This route is known as ‘derogation’. 

Current status 

The Plan-Level HRA for Offshore Wind Leasing Round 4 is currently underway.  No decisions about the outcome will be reached until the Plan-Level HRA has concluded, which is expected to be in Spring 2022.  

The process is now at the ‘Appropriate Assessment’ stage. This is an objective, scientific assessment of the implications of Round 4 for any protected habitats that are potentially affected. It will provide a better understanding of the potential effects and, as appropriate, identify measures which can be put in place to cancel, avoid or reduce those effects.  

Next steps 

As set out at the beginning of the Round 4 process, if the conclusion of this work is that the Round 4 plan will not have an ‘adverse effect on site integrity’ (AEOI) on any UK National Network site, The Crown Estate may grant seabed rights (an ‘Agreement for Lease’). 

If it is concluded that an AEOI cannot be ruled out, the HRA will examine alternative solutions. At this point, The Crown Estate may consider making use of the ‘derogation’ process. This would involve seeking the agreement of the Secretary of State and Welsh Ministers to allow UK National Network sites to be impacted if: it can be established that there are no feasible alternative solutions; there are imperative reasons of overriding public interest; and compensation for any impact is secured. 

Olivia Thomas, Head of Marine Planning at The Crown Estate said: “Offshore Wind Leasing Round 4 offers exciting possibilities to deliver a significant increase in the nation’s green energy capacity and we are committed to achieving this in a responsible and sustainable way, in balance with our marine and coastal habitats."

“We are firmly committed to conducting the Plan-Level HRA, which is currently underway, in a timely, robust and evidence-based manner, supported by independent experts.” 

Working with experts 

To ensure the Plan-Level HRA is conducted in an independent and informed way, The Crown Estate is being supported by an independently overseen Expert Working Group chaired by Professor Dickon Howell. The group comprises expert advisors who are providing scientific technical expertise, including relevant UK statutory marine planning authorities, statutory nature conservation bodies and relevant non-governmental organisations. 

What happens next? 

The HRA process is expected to conclude in Spring 2022. Subject to the outcome, developers would then be granted an Agreement for Lease by The Crown Estate and be able to progress projects through the planning process, in which stakeholders and local communities will have an opportunity to participate. The projects could begin to generate clean electricity by the end of the decade. 

- Ends - 

  

 

Notes to Editors:  

The six Offshore Wind Leasing Round 4 projects are:  

Preferred Bidder 

Capacity 

Location 

RWE Renewables 

1500 MW 

Dogger Bank 

RWE Renewables 

1500 MW 

Dogger Bank 

Green Investment Group / Total 

1500 MW 

Eastern Regions 

Consortium of EnBW and BP 

1500 MW 

Northern Wales & Irish Sea 

 

Offshore Wind Limited, a Joint Venture between Cobra Instalaciones y Servicios, S.A. and Flotation Energy plc 

480 MW 

Northern Wales & Irish Sea 

Consortium of EnBW and BP 

1500 MW  

Northern Wales & Irish Sea 

Further information:  

What is a UK National Network Site? 

The Habitats Regulations protect certain habitats and species through a network of core breeding and resting sites for rare and threatened species, and some rare natural habitat types which are protected in their own right.  

The Regulations specifically refer to Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and Special Protection Areas (SPAs). These sites are given legal protection because they are designated for habitats and species of importance. Together they form a network of protected sites known as the UK national site network. 

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