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Wind Turbines

Volume 450: debated on Tuesday 10 October 2006

3. If he will assess the effects of Government policy on wind turbines on migrating bird populations in Scotland. (92537)

Planning consent to site wind turbines is devolved to Scottish Executive Ministers for larger projects and to local authorities for others. In all cases, the relevant authority must comply with European obligations, including those arising under the birds and habitats directives.

I thank the Minister for that reply. Although I welcome the progress—albeit slow progress—that the Government are making on renewables, may I express concern that often bird life and habitats are overlooked in the planning and decision-making processes? Does the Minister share my concern that the proposal by British Energy and AMEC on the Isle of Lewis does not fully explore the whole issue of the impact on migrating bird life, about which the Scottish population—a bird-loving population—have real concerns?

When the hon. Gentleman started to talk about endangered species in Scotland, I thought for a moment that he was talking about the Scottish Tory party. If the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson) wants to debate that, he is very welcome to join us at Scotland Office questions.

The hon. Gentleman raises a serious point—there is often tension between the global environmental gains to be made from renewable energy sources such as wind farms, and local environmental considerations, and it is important that they are balanced. That is why the European habitats directive must be taken into consideration before planning consent is given, and I am sure that he welcomes that EU regulation, as he welcomes all EU regulations. However, that highlights the need to take these decisions on a case-by-case basis based on the evidence, and not to adopt a strategy of calling for a moratorium on all wind- farm developments in Scotland. [Interruption.] Conservative Members may say that no one is saying that, but the Scottish Tory party is saying it.

I certainly hope that bird habitats will be taken into account in the very exciting development on the Beatrice platform, which is run by Talisman, whose headquarters is in my constituency. People there are working out how to maximise the use of offshore wind—in fact, the turbines will be very large and one of them will be extremely large—but does my hon. Friend agree that such developments should not be jeopardised by any over-concern for wildlife, which, obviously, has to deal with the existing offshore platforms in the North sea in any case?

My hon. Friend is right to highlight the potential of deep-water offshore wind farms to get us beyond some of the tensions that occur when the local environmental impacts stop the global benefits of renewable energy. Of course, the trial on the Beatrice field is just beginning and we must consider its results with very great care.

While it is obviously right that the interests of migrating bird populations should be taken into account, does the Minister agree that the siting of wind farms can provide a useful stream of revenue for farmers and landowners in respect of their properties, which might otherwise be financially unviable?

The right hon. and learned Gentleman makes an excellent point. Of course, wind farms have many possible benefits, not just the global benefits of reducing our carbon emissions and helping us to meet our targets. However, people in more and more farming communities recognise that if their farms are to be viable and sustainable, they must diversify from agriculture into other forms of income generation, and this is one of them.