17 March 2021
Peter Aldous speaks in debate on the disposal of unexploded ordnance for offshore windfarm construction

Peter Aldous calls on the Government to encourage innovative techniques to decrease the environmental impact of detonating UXOs and calls for a review the regulatory framework to pursue an ecosystem approach that takes full account of the increasing and varied demand on our marine resources.

Peter Aldous (Waveney) (Con) [V]

Thank you, Mr Dowd; it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. I congratulate the hon. Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (John Nicolson) on securing the debate. He has highlighted a very important concern.

I am a supporter of offshore wind. It is bringing significant benefits to my constituency, and there is the potential for it to do even more over the next 30 years. In the southern North sea, there will be an enormous expansion of wind farms, which will create jobs and play a key role in the transition to net zero, but this exponential growth brings challenges with it. Our marine environment is an extremely sensitive and precious resource, and we have a duty to manage UK waters in a responsible and sustainable way, passing them on in a better condition than they were in when we inherited them.

That is not an easy task, as our seas are becoming incredibly busy. Off the East Anglian coast, there are, as well as wind farms, rich fishing grounds, gas fields in which we can store carbon, interconnectors, cables, busy shipping lanes and areas where dredging takes place. I believe that the time is right to review the regulatory framework and to pursue an ecosystem approach that takes full account of the many different marine resources.

With regard to the specific subject of this debate, it is important to point out that developers are bringing forward innovative techniques that significantly decrease the impact of detonating UXOs. ScottishPower Renewables has trailed deflagration and the use of bubble curtains on the East Anglia ONE wind farm, and has given an undertaking to continue with that on the forthcoming East Anglia Hub. The Government must work with and encourage industry to come forward with new and innovative techniques that minimise disturbance to the marine environment. The UK has a good track record of doing that, and it can bring economic benefits as we promote those new technologies globally.

We must also put in place policies that reduce the risk of conflict between the many marine activities. The report by REAF—Renaissance of East Anglian Fisheries —highlighted the significant increase in wind farms along the East Anglian coast and the fact that the displacement of fishing is not being properly taken into account in the marine planning and consenting system. We recommended that more use be made of existing data, so as to manage potential conflicts between fishing and offshore wind. I urge the Government to adopt that recommendation, and I am happy to provide the Minister with further details.

The rapid growth of offshore wind is a great British success story, but as the hon. Member for Ochil and South Perthshire has highlighted, it can bring unintended and serious consequences. By working collaboratively within a planning and regulatory framework that is fit for purpose—it does need updating—we can meet those challenges and properly and fully build back better.