RSPB Scotland's head of planning and development Aedán Smith sets out what we believe is at stake with regard to the Judicial Review into the Forth and Tay offshore windfarms.

Forth & Tay Judicial Review: what we believe is at stake?

As previously reported RSPB Scotland has applied to the Supreme Court for permission to appeal the Inner House, Court of Session Opinion on our Judicial Review of the decisions by Scottish Ministers to consent four offshore wind projects in the Firth of Forth in 2014. In light of recent press articles and adverts I wanted to reflect on how and why we have reached this unfortunate milestone. 

As noted before (see here and here) we have been involved in these Firth of Forth offshore wind projects right from their inception during the mid to late 2000s, driven by our desire to see renewables deployed in harmony with nature. At every step along the applications process we have been clear that the Firth of Forth region is a fantastically rich and important place for our seabirds and accordingly these sensitivities must be accounted for when deciding the future of the large commercial scale offshore wind farms.  It is clear that the 2014 consent decisions fell short of considering these sensitivities – in some instances dramatically so. 

We were not only profoundly disappointed with the Inner House Opinion in May but more importantly extremely concerned about the precedents that this Opinion could set. Not just for protected seabird colonies in the Firth of Forth, but for how it could substantially reduce the protection afforded to our most special and protected places for wildlife elsewhere in Scotland and across the rest of the UK.

We thought hard about these precedents and what major risks they present, before seeking permission to appeal the Inner House Opinion. In the future, decision-makers may rely on the Inner House’s findings, which could:

-          erode the level of protection offered to our most special sites and species;

-          undermine the objectives and purpose of environmental impact assessments and the opportunity for public engagement in this process; and

-          reduce the importance of expert advice provided by Government’s own appointed regulatory experts, the statutory nature conservation advisors.

Given these risks we were once again in a position where we felt we had no alternative but to seek permission to continue the legal proceedings. 

In our efforts to secure the long term survival of Scotland’s protected seabirds that breed and forage on its east coast, we have exposed these fundamental shortfalls that put at risk the sustainable progress of not only offshore renewables but also other potentially damaging development whether at sea or on land.

Separate to the legal proceedings and the consent decisions taken in 2014, each of the Firth of Forth developers are taking advantage of advances in turbine technology. All three are progressing with new design proposals comprising larger, fewer turbines, which will help reduce the potential impacts. RSPB Scotland is working constructively with each developer, Marine Scotland (the licensing authority) and Scottish Natural Heritage on these new proposals and we await the imminent applications. As in 2014, our objectives remain the same – to see renewables developed in harmony with nature. Our support for renewables, including offshore wind, remains undiminished, however projects must be well sited and designed to avoid exacerbating an existing environmental problem, long term seabird declines, whilst trying to solve another, climate change emissions.