THE ‘plan B’ for Dorset’s wind farm proposals will not be considered as a new scheme in its own right, inspectors have ruled.

Objectors had hoped Navitus Bay Development Ltd (NBDL) would be made to submit a new planning application for its scaled-down ‘mitigation option’ rather than having it considered as an amendment to the existing scheme.

Planning inspectors agree that the revised scheme is a “material change” but not enough to require a new application. They are allowing extra time for interested parties to make representations.

Read The Planning Inspectorate document in full here 

Although NBDL says it remains committed to its original plans, which involve as many as 194 turbines up to 200m high, it has proposed a smaller development of 105 turbines, 11 miles from shore rather than nine.

Mike Unsworth, project director for Navitus, said: “We are pleased that the Planning Inspectorate has agreed to consider our alternative option for fewer turbines, further offshore, as part of our original planning application. While this proposal provides a second option for consideration in that process, it does not replace our original proposal.”

He said either scheme would make an important contribution to the local economy and the UK’s renewable energy targets.

“In the case of the original proposal, that amounts to a £1.62billion boost to the local economy over the project’s life time and the creation of a minimum of 1,700 jobs,” he added.

A letter from Ava Wood, lead member of the panel of examining inspectors, ruled the scaled-back scheme could be considered as part of the original application.

“Given the extent of reduction in the number of turbines, and in installed capacity, the Examining Authority accepts that the proposal for the Turbine Area Mitigation Option constitutes material change,” the letter said.

“However, the Examining Authority does not consider that the materiality of the change applied for is of such a degree that it constitutes a new application.”

It added that “anyone affected by the amended proposal should have a fair opportunity to have their views known and properly taken into account”.

Bournemouth council leader John Beesley said: “The magnitude of the scheme - even in a slightly reduced form – will have substantial impacts on our beautiful bay, tourism industry and local economy.  

"We are pleased that the Planning Inspectorate will consider the ‘Turbine Area Mitigation Option’ based on the likely worst impacts of the development. 

"Whilst the negative impacts of the wind farm and the £100 million annual loss to our local tourism businesses  undoubtedly remain, the positive impacts of the scheme in terms of job creation and clean energy generation are significantly reduced - the latter by 35%. We firmly believe that the negative impacts of EDF and Eneco’s Navitus Bay wind farm far outweigh any benefits.”

Opposition group Challenge Navitus said it was surprised by the examiners’ decision to add a second option into the examination of the Navitus Bay wind farm “given the many points of objection raised by us and other parties”.

It said that the new addition was materially different from the original application submitted in April 2014 and did not replace it.

Andrew Langley of Challenge Navitus said: “This decision raises serious questions about the infrastructure planning process, but we will continue to engage in the examination. Even the new option would be as large as any operating offshore wind farm in the world, and it is still close to a highly-sensitive coast.”

Roy Pointer, chair of the Poole and Christchurch Bays Association said: "We are baffled at the decision, which flies in the face of democratic consultation. A huge number of respondents - including councils, MPs, NGOs and residents' groups - strongly urged that Plan B should be subject to a fresh application and full consultation process.

"This has been widely reported in the Echo. It is quite astonishing that such a huge industrial project, in such an environmentally and economically sensitive area, should not be subject to local discussion.

"We, and hopefully the record number of those registered to oppose the Navitus development, will redouble our efforts to see it consigned to the dustbin."

Angela Pooley, from East Dorset Friends of the Earth, said: “While we still fully support the original plans, East Dorset FoE welcomes this sensible decision by the Planning Inspectorate and trusts that the same commonsense prevails and their final decision will be for the Wind Farm to go ahead.”

Additional representations from registered ‘interested parties’ on the amended scheme can be submitted by February 5. Those who are not registered as interested parties can also submit written representations, as long as they relate only to the Turbine Area Mitigation Option.

Comments on these additional representations must then be submitted by March 5.