THE majority of people are in support of the Navitus Bay wind farm, one of the project’s senior figures has said.

The Daily Echo joined a fact-finding trip from Poole to the proposed turbine site as Navitus Bay Development Ltd (NBDL) continues its preparations in the hope that the controversial scheme will get the go-ahead.

NBDL wants to build 121 turbines at 200 metres high – or 78 if a scaled-down ‘mitigation option’ is chosen.

They would be 13 miles from Bournemouth and Poole and nine from Swanage in the first option – 17 from Bournemouth and Poole in the second.

Stuart Grant, senior project manager for Navitus Bay, also admitted that if the project was refused NBDL would have little option but to walk away, with no appeals process.

The only likely option for either NBDL or objectors after the decision is a Judicial Review, which would need to be based on a claim that an aspect of the examination process was not carried out correctly.

Mr Grant said the purpose of the trip was to gather data on each of the three ports that could be used for both the building and operation phases of the project – Poole, Portland and Yarmouth.

The trip from Poole harbour to the site took around one hour. From the edge of the application site, at the closest point that turbines would be to shore, Old Harry Rocks were just visible at sea level.

Mr Grant said: “From our perspective we expect to invest in these ports, what we’re trying to establish now is what they need.

“It’s not just us coming in saying this is what we want; it’s about the ports saying what they can do. All three will probably be used in some form or another.

“There is a huge economic impact here, a £1.6 billion economic impact; why should it not come to the shores that it’s closest to?”

Mr Grant said that the construction phase would create around 1,700 jobs, while around 100 people would be employed once the project is operational – but objectors say that those numbers are optimistic and many times that would lose their jobs in what they say would be a huge negative impact on the tourism industry.

The decision on the project, which has attracted substantial opposition, now rests with the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Amber Rudd, who is due to decide by September 11.

Mr Grant added: “You’re never going to please everybody all of the time and some of the objectors don’t believe in wind energy.

“It’s up to us to deliver a project that has minimum impact, but maximum benefit.

“It’s easy for people to oppose something, but around 65 per cent of the local population support offshore wind and are happy to see it off the coast and that’s consistent with the national picture.”

One of the most vocal opponents has been Bournemouth Borough Council, which fears a hugely detrimental impact on tourism – it says that research shows that visitors would be put off visiting during construction, losing the town’s tourism industry £100 million a year.

But Mr Grant said: “As far as Bournemouth council goes, we have tried to meet their concerns. For the tourism impact there’s no evidence out there.

“We’re sensitive to the World Heritage issue and we moved further away from the Jurassic Coast, we haven’t got a large wind farm stretching along the coast.”

The Government has recently indicated that subsidies for onshore wind projects will be scrapped, with questions asked as to whether offshore will follow.

Mr Grant said: “I think the Government desire is, long term, to reduce support and make these projects stand on their own two feet.

“Offshore wind has less impact and is more efficient.”

Proposed wind farm is splitting opinions 

WHILE NBDL claims that more people are in favour of the proposed wind farm than against it, those fighting it say that the majority do not want to see it happen.

Bournemouth West MP Conor Burns said: “I believe that the threat posed to Bournemouth by the proposed wind farm is the most profound for a generation. It is an issue that came up on doorsteps across the constituency during the General Election campaign and I am determined to fight it with any means at my disposal.

“I am not against renewable energy per se, and believe that offshore wind power has a role to play in our energy infrastructure. I am, however, against this particular proposal in this particular place.”

Poole and Christchurch Bays Association, a coalition of 50 residents’ groups fighting the proposals, says that Navitus Bay will have “a bigger impact on the environment than any onshore development”, dominating “cherished views from Britain’s favourite beaches and viewpoints” and that “the majority of the record numbers who registered to take part in the planning process” were against it.

Dr Andrew Langley, from Swanage-based opposition group Challenge Navitus, added: “The proposal would be easily the world's largest offshore wind farm if it was operating today, yet it would be much closer to shore than government recommendations support.”

Leader of Bournemouth Borough Council, Cllr John Beesley, said: “The unspoilt view is the main reason why 6.7 million tourists choose to visit Bournemouth every year. Navitus Bay’s own research clearly warns of a severe decline in tourism if the wind farm is approved, with £100 million to be lost from our local economy annually.

“Navitus Bay will significantly and irrevocably compromise the unspoilt, natural view out to sea, which is so critical in attracting and retaining British and overseas tourists.”

But environmental groups say the farm needs to be built.

Chris Rigby, from the South East Dorset Green Party, said: “Having the ability to generate enough power for 700,000 homes without producing any CO2 emissions within Dorset will be hugely beneficial to the local environment. 

“The SEDGP stand for clean energy generation in Dorset and for the preservation of our natural world heritage site coastline. Our reliance on fossil fuels has to be significantly reduced and Navitus Bay is one of many ways we can help the UK continue to do this."

Angela Pooley, from East Dorset Friends of the Earth, added: “What needs to happen now is that Amber Rudd should heed the warnings of her own department and grant permission. After that there should be a concerted effort for everyone to work together to ensure the work, both onshore and offshore is carried out to the highest standards creating environmental and economic benefits for the area.”