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21 April 2022

The Crown Estate confirms intention to proceed to the final stage of Offshore Wind Leasing Round 4

The Crown Estate has marked an important step towards helping the UK meet its net zero and energy security commitments by completing its work on the Plan-Level Habitats Regulations Assessment (HRA) for Offshore Wind Leasing Round 4 – which has the potential to deliver up to 8GW of vital new offshore wind capacity (enough to power up to 7 million more homes).

In 2021, as managers of the seabed around England, Wales and Northern Ireland, The Crown Estate announced that it had selected six proposed new offshore wind projects in the waters around England and Wales through Offshore Wind Leasing Round 4.

As with all relevant plans or projects (either on or offshore), there is a requirement to undertake a ‘Habitats Regulations Assessment (HRA)’ – an assessment of the potential impacts on the most valuable environmental habitats in the UK. For offshore wind developments, this is an important step in helping to conserve the UK’s marine and coastal environment.

The Crown Estate has now completed its work on the Round 4 Plan-Level HRA which concluded that the possibility of an ‘Adverse Effect on Site Integrity’ (AEOSI) as a result of the Round 4 plan cannot be ruled out for two of the protected sites forming part of ‘the national site network’*. These are the Flamborough & Filey Coast SPA* (due to the potential impact on the kittiwake feature) and the Dogger Bank SAC* (due to the likely impact on the sandbank feature of that site).

In light of this, The Crown Estate considered whether it should make use of ‘derogation’ - a process which enables plans or projects to progress if certain tests are met, while ensuring any environmental impacts are fully offset through environmental compensatory measures. This can include a range of actions including creating or restoring the same or similar habitat, or measures to reduce other environmental pressures on the affected habitats.

In considering whether to make use of the derogation process The Crown Estate concluded that:

  • There are no alternative solutions for delivering the nationally important objectives of the Round 4 plan;
  • There are clear, imperative reasons of overriding public interest to proceed, including the urgent need to deliver clean, renewable energy in support of the UK Government’s ambition to deliver 50GW of offshore wind by 2030 and to reach the legally binding net zero target by 2050; and
  • Environmental compensatory measures can be secured to fully offset the potential harm to the two sites and to ensure that the overall coherence of the national site network is protected.

This has resulted in The Crown Estate giving notice to the UK and Welsh Governments of its intent to proceed with the Round 4 plan on the basis of a ‘derogation’. The notice confirms the intention to progress all six of the offshore wind projects which form the Round 4 plan to the final stage of the leasing process – the award of an Agreement of Lease – subject to any environmental impacts being fully offset through environmental compensatory measures.

The proposed derogation for Round 4 will now be considered by BEIS and the Welsh Government in line with the HRA process set out in law.

Olivia Thomas, Head of Marine Planning at The Crown Estate said: “As pressures on our marine environment increase, it’s imperative that we can find ways to deliver the clean power that is urgently needed to help combat the energy crisis and deliver greater energy security, while recognising the importance of protecting habitats and biodiversity offshore.

“It’s therefore vital that any proposed developments are rigorously assessed to understand their impacts and that’s why we carefully followed the HRA process set out in the Habitats Regulations for the Round 4 plan.

“We are grateful for the valuable independent expertise provided by environmental and conservation organisations throughout the Round 4 HRA process.”

To ensure the process was conducted in an independent and informed way, The Crown Estate has consulted and engaged regularly with an Expert Working Group chaired by Professor Dickon Howell. The group’s expert advisors provided scientific technical expertise, including from relevant UK statutory marine planning authorities, statutory nature conservation bodies and relevant non-governmental organisations. With this expertise and advice and the separate technical assessment work that it commissioned, The Crown Estate has been able to make a fully informed decision which takes the nation another step closer to bringing forward additional clean power in a way which recognises and addresses the importance of conserving habitats and biodiversity offshore.  

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 Additional Information 

For further information about Habitats Regulations Assessments, including the derogation process, visit: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/habitats-regulations-assessments-protecting-a-european-site

What happens next?

  • If a response to the derogation notice is not received within 21 days, the plan can be agreed. However, once the notification is sent, The Crown Estate can be directed not to agree the plan either indefinitely or for a specified period. Alternatively the derogation case might be accepted, or a direction may be given for The Crown Estate not to agree to the plan, or authorisation may be given for The Crown Estate to agree the plan but only subject to conditions or restrictions.

For further information visit https://www.gov.uk/guidance/habitats-regulations-assessments-protecting-a-european-site


What is a Habitats Regulations Assessment?

Before awarding seabed rights for Offshore Wind Leasing Round 4, The Crown Estate is required to undertake a ‘Plan-Level Habitats Regulations Assessment (HRA)’ – an assessment of the potential impacts of Offshore Wind Leasing Round 4 on the most valuable environmental habitats in the UK, which make up the national site 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 all relevant plans or projects, such as major housing developments, roads and airports, where they could affect protected habitats.

If the plan proceeds through the plan-level HRA, each individual project will then be subject to a detailed project-level assessment when the developer seeks consent for the project. Any project-level HRA provides for significant scrutiny and the opportunity for further review and consultation before any development takes place.

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

  • It does not adversely affect the integrity of any protected habitat site in the national site network or;
  • Where such an impact can’t be ruled out, there is no alternative solution to the plan or project and the plan or project must be carried out for imperative reasons of overriding public interest the plan or project may nonetheless proceed. In such cases, compensatory measures must be secured to ensure the overall coherence of the national site network is maintained. This route is known as ‘derogation’.

*What is ‘the national site network’?

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 national site network.  Other sites, such as Ramsar sites (wetlands of international importance), also have the same level of protection as a matter of Government policy.

What potential ‘Adverse Effects on Site Integrity’ were identified through the HRA and what compensatory measures have been proposed?

  • The potential adverse effects relate to Dogger Bank SAC and Flamborough and Filey Coast SPA. The findings of the plan level HRA, including these potential effects, have been shared with the Expert Working Group, which includes relevant UK statutory marine planning authorities, statutory nature conservation bodies and relevant non-governmental organisations, throughout the HRA process.
  • Compensatory measures must fully compensate for the negative effects of the proposal and must not have a negative effect on the national site network as a whole.
  • Compensatory measures can include a range of measures including creating or restoring the same, or similar habitat, or measures to reduce other environmental pressures on the affected habitats.
  • The precise detail of compensatory measures is likely to be clear only after detailed project design but The Crown Estate will oversee the design and delivery of those measures through individual site compensation plans.
  • Before awarding an Agreement for Lease, The Crown Estate will need to be satisfied that in principle appropriate compensatory measures are feasible and can be secured. Agreements for Lease could be awarded subject to mitigation and compensatory measures.
  • Further guidance on compensatory measures can be found at gov.uk

Overview of Habitats Regulations Assessments: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/habitats-regulations-assessments-protecting-a-european-site

Overview of Round 4 Plan- Level HRA process: https://www.thecrownestate.co.uk/en-gb/what-we-do/on-the-seabed/offshore-wind-leasing-round-4/round-4-plan-level-habitats-regulations-assessment/

A Guide to Habitats Regulations Assessment (HRA) for Offshore Wind Leasing Round 4: https://www.thecrownestate.co.uk/media/4065/a-guide-to-hra-april-2022.pdf

Overview of Offshore Wind Leasing Round 4 (including a map of projects): https://www.thecrownestate.co.uk/round-4/

 
The six Offshore Wind Leasing Round 4 projects are:

Region/ location

Successful bidder

Proposed project capacity (MW)

Off the Yorkshire Coast, North East of Scarborough

RWE Renewables

1500

Off the Yorkshire Coast, North East of Scarborough

RWE Renewables

1500

Off the Lincolnshire Coast, East of the Humber Estuary

Green Investment Group - Total

1500

Off the Northern Welsh Coast, North East of Anglesey

Consortium of EnBW and BP

1500

Off the Lancashire Coast, West of Blackpool and South West of Morecambe Bay

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

480

Off the coast of Barrow-In-Furness, West of Morecambe Bay

Consortium of EnBW and BP

1500

Contact:  

 

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