MCZs Delay could Affect Renewable Energy Projects, Warns Environmental Law Expert (UK)
An impact assessment will be conducted by Natural England (NE) and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) and the six month delay will allow them to address the previous site recommendations before they issue formal advice in July 2012.
In September it was recommended that 127 coastal and offshore areas be designated as MCZs. Those areas covered 37,475 square kilometres and the designation was designed to protect all types of marine features, not just rare or threatened species.
Environmental law expert Gordon McCreath of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, warned that the delay could affect renewable energy projects.
“It is welcome news that further work will be done to ensure that the evidence base is sound. But delay in designation adds a layer of uncertainty that many offshore electricity generators who are conducting pre-application consultation and submitting applications for consent over the next 18 months could do without,” he said.
A network of conservation sites is required in the UK under the Marine and Coastal Access Act. The Act requires that the sites must conserve or improve the UK marine environment and protect a range of representative features.
However, as a result of the “gaps and limitations” in the evidence supporting the MCZ recommendations, an in-depth review of the evidence underpinning the choice of sites must be undertaken, Environment Minister Richard Benyon said in a statement. Additional resources have been committed to carrying out seabed and habitat monitoring, he said.
Of the recommended MCZs, 65 locations would have been given heightened protection as “reference areas”, which means that no activity could be carried out on in those areas. The “reference areas” would be for the sole purpose of allowing scientists to study how small sections of marine habitat might evolve in an undisturbed state.
A public consultation will be undertaken on the formal advice issued by NE and JNCC by the end of 2012, Benyon said. The consultation will include detailed information on all sites recommended by the Regional Projects and clarity on how and when work on them will be taken forward.
“We are likely to be able to designate some MCZs fairly quickly, where the supporting evidence is adequate. However, for others we anticipate that more investigation will be needed before they can progress towards designation,” Benyon said.
It is envisaged that the first MCZ designations will take place in 2013.
Offshore WIND staff, November 18, 2011