Isle of Man Government, Isle of Man Steam Packet Company, Travelwatch Isle of Man, the Island’s Chamber of Commerce and a variety of other bodies with interests in shipping have outlined concerns about a proposed extension to the Walney Offshore Wind Farm to a public hearing of the UK Planning Inspectorate.

The plans for development off the Cumbrian coast, submitted by Dong Energy, were considered during Tuesday’s hearing at the Villa Marina in Douglas, and the cumulative impact of proposed offshore wind farm developments in the Irish Sea was also discussed. Air navigation matters were explored in the morning session as wind farms impact on radar cover for aircraft. The impact on sea navigation and safety, as well as the social and economic implications for the Island, were discussed in the afternoon session.

Steam Packet Company Commercial Director John Watt explained there could be a serious economic impact on the Isle of Man.

He said: ‘We do not object to appropriately located wind farms and have not objected to the majority of wind farm developments in the Irish Sea. We do not object to Walney Extension if developed in isolation, but the Steam Packet Company must review the ultimate effect of the Walney Extension Project and the North East Potential Development Area (NE PDA) as proposed by Dong/Centrica. The positioning, the cumulative impact of Walney extension and the NE PDA, and the lack of viable adverse weather routing options has not yet been adequately addressed.

‘These routes are essential for safe navigation in adverse weather which can be common in this sea area, and cancellations arising from a lack of suitable weather routing options will therefore have a serious negative socio-economic impact for us and indeed the whole of the Isle of Man.’

He added: ‘Our services offer a lifeline for the Isle of Man. We carry around 600,000 passengers annually, 170,000 cars, motorcycles and coaches, and over 400,000 metres of freight vehicles which provide critical supplies.’

Mr Watt also told the hearing the applicant had not completed market research or interviews with Isle of Man businesses, public services or the travelling public dependent on reliable sailings, despite previously promising to do so.’

He said: ‘We understand the applicant chose not to complete research with end customers and only met the Chamber of Commerce after submitting its application.’

Steam Packet Company Marine Manager Captain Kane Taha and Captain Allan Albiston, Master of Ben-my-Chree explained navigational concerns to the hearing.

Captain Taha said: ‘The Irish Sea Chart provided to the Inspectorate in December shows Steam Packet Company Heysham and Liverpool routes, and an example of some of the wide range of the weather routes used. The chart also illustrates the “cumulative impact” concern with the position of all the current potential developments.’

He added: ‘While ships will take the direct route in calm conditions, a variety of routings are used and are essential in adverse weather conditions for passenger comfort and safety and to avoid cargo shifting or damage. Ships are vulnerable to “cross winds” and swell and weather routing is important for the safety of the ship.

‘Ben-my-Chree cannot simply “divert to the south” to a weather route south of a further proposed development, the NE PDA, as claimed by the applicant, as the minimum extra 1 hour 7 minutes passage each way at full service speed – whereas ferries will typically slow down in adverse weather for comfort and safety – will effectively lead to cancellations of the following return services.’

Captain Taha also referred to the UK Maritime Coastguard Agency comment that there are ‘realistic concerns’ which would have to be fully addressed by the developers within both Navigational Risk Assessments and cumulative impact studies.

The Planning Inspectorate also heard from Captain Graeme Proctor, of the UK Marine Coastguard Agency, Adrian Mundin, of the UK Chamber of Shipping, and Captain Dave Eccles, representing Stena Line, who all concurred with Manx concerns that while the proposed Walney Windfarm extension in isolation could be accommodated, the cumulative impact of Walney and the North East Potential Development Area would be unacceptable from a navigational safety perspective.

Concerns regarding the impact on the Island’s air and sea lifeline access were also raised by Jane Dellar, Chief Executive of the Isle of Man Chamber of Commerce, John Pennington, of Travelwatch, and Michael Gallagher, Isle of Man Government’s Director of Planning.

The Isle of Man Chamber of Commerce told the hearing of serious concerns raised by its members, in particular the manufacturing, retail and tourism sectors. Miss Dellar informed the hearing of the total reliance the Island has on the ferry for food supplies, the ‘just-in-time’ process for manufacturing supplies and customer delivery, along with highlighting the fact that 50 per cent of the Island’s visitors travel by ferry.

She concluded that any increase in cancellations could have a devastating effect on local business. She added that while cancellations to flights and sailings were part of Island life, any further, avoidable, cancellations caused by wind farms restricting safe navigation in bad weather needed to be fought with some vigour.

John Pennington, from Travelwatch, stressed the importance of reliable shipping and air services to passenger interests and highlighted that the visual impact of turbines up to 222 metres high would also be significant. TravelWatch submitted an illustration of the scale to the Inspectors, as Dong did not appear to illustrate adequately the sheer magnitude of the proposed installations.

The UK Planning Inspectors are now considering the evidence before making a recommendation to UK Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Ed Davey.

Wind Farm Map

Ilustration produced by Travelwatch, which outlines the visual impact of a turbine.