THE JURASSIC Coast could lose its prized World Heritage status if the giant offshore wind farm is built.
A conservation body which advises the United Nations’ Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) fears that the Navitus Bay project would damage the unique coastline.
Businesses now fear that if designation was withdrawn it would have a detrimental impact on tourism.
The concerns were raised by Kishore Rao, director of the World Heritage Centre of Unesco in response to a submission from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport.
Mr Rao said that the wind farm proposal would change the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site to a natural setting dominated by man-made structures.
The World Heritage Site stretches from east Devon to Swanage.
Mr Rao also suggested the farm could be in contradiction to the overarching principle of the World Heritage Convention.
Mr Rao was conveying the reservations of the International Union for Conservation of Nat-ure, an advisory body that advises the World Heritage Committee.
South Dorset MP Richard Drax has echoed concerns raised Mr Rao.
Mr Drax said: “I wrote to Unesco in July 2012 about the threat that such a vast, industrial, offshore complex could pose to this, the sole World Heritage Site of Outstanding Uni-versal Value in England.
“I am delighted that they seem to agree with me although I am concerned that our designation may be threatened.”
Mr Drax said the wind farm would have far reaching repercussions, including sediment disturbance, constant sound, low frequency hums, and light flicker.
He added: “When proposals for just three wind turbines threatened another World Heritage Site, the Mont Saint Michel in France, Unesco threat- ened to withdraw their world heritage status. The French government was forced to draw a 20km exclusion zone around the Mont.
“At the very least, I hope for a similar result here. Better still, Navitus Bay will follow Unesco’s suggestion and place this monstrosity of a wind farm elsewhere.”
This committee is responsible for taking decisions regarding the status of World Heritage sites.
A spokesman for Unesco however said no final assessment had been made.
Discussing Mr Rao’s letter, the spokesman said: “It raised questions regarding the potentially negative impact of Navitus Bay on the World Heritage Site of Dorset and East Devon Coast.
“But in his letter Mr Rao also pointed out that further study was required to assess that impact.
“The Navitus Bay project has given rise to regular exchanges of views and the project has evolved over recent years. There is no final assessment, positive or negative, of the project at present.
In a statement, Mike Unsworth, project director at Navitus Bay, said: “We will be seeking further clarification as the interim comments are not aligned with the independent heritage impact assessment provided in the Environmental Statement or the conclusion of DCMS provided in February 2014.”
Mr Unsworth said the conclusion read: “Our overall conclusion, on the basis of the evidence presented so far, is that while the proposed wind farm will have some impact on the World Heritage property, there should be no significant impact on Outstanding Universal Value.”
Mr Unsworth added that the protected site was limited to the shoreline itself and the nearest turbine would be located 14.3km from the coast.
The Jurassic Coast was awarded World Heritage Site status by Unesco in December 2001.
The site was formally opened by the Prince of Wales in October 2002. It was England’s first natural World Heritage Site.
The 95-mile stretch of coast represents 185 million years of the Earth’s history.
Visual impact on Jurassic tourists
Richard Edmonds, Jurassic Coast science manager at Dorset County Council, said the wind farm proposals wouldn’t affect the physical aspects of the site.
He said: “We don’t think that the change to the wave climate will have a significant effect on the site. If it slows erosion down significantly, that would be an impact.”
Mr Edmonds said it would be for Unesco to decide whether the site’s heritage status is threatened.
He said: “It’s such a huge project. It involves so many different disciplines. It’s quite challenging.”
Mr Edmonds nevertheless admitted that he was concerned about the proposal’s visual impact and how this would affect people’s experience of the coast.
Denys Brunsden, a geomorphologist specialising in landslides and coastal erosion, said the World Heritage Site, which stems from the low water to the top of the cliffs, had an outstanding universal value.
He said: “If something has an outstanding universal value, it means it is valuable to everyone on the planet.”
The Jurassic Coastline is protected through existing UK legislation that applies to Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI’s). There are thirteen sites that cover the coast.
There are also 66 Geological Conservation Review sites that cover the core values of the site for geology.
The site is also largely protected by the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty designations.
Professor Brunsden added: “When a World Heritage Site is designated it will only be designated if it is protected all the way around by a buffer zone.”
“This is probably one of the most protected inland coasts in the world.”
Councillors to discuss application
County councillors will discuss the Navitus Bay Wind Park application next Tuesday at a planning committee.
They will consider a report by Don Gobbett, head of planning, looking at the positive and negative aspects of the Navitus Bay application.
Key considerations will include the potential impact on the Jurassic Coast’s World Heritage status.
County councillor Mike Lovell, pictured, who represents Purbeck Hills and sits on the planning committee, said he wanted to listen to all of the arguments.
He said: “I’m hoping that we will have some good reasons for any recommendations we make – or what we put forward – to the government.
“If the status was at risk I think we would all be very upset. Tourism in the area needs to be looked after.”
He added: “We will do what we can and hopefully the government will listen. It’s the minister who will make the final decision.”