European Commission concern for Atlantic Array windfarm

Image caption Save Our Marine Mammals said the Atlantic Array could endanger harbour porpoises

The European Commission (EC) has launched an investigation into whether a major windfarm off the Devon coast could endanger wildlife.

The 240-turbine Atlantic Array would be double the size of any windfarm currently operating in Britain.

The EC confirmed it is taking up the matter with the UK Government due to the "failure to propose protection sites for the harbour porpoise".

A Defra spokesperson they were working to identify further sites.

A letter from Gunter Raad, acting head of environment directorate of the European Commission, said they had received a "wide-ranging complaint".

"As a result of our investigations we have now decided to follow this matter up with infringement action," the statement said.

Mr Raad said the EC was now waiting for a reply from the relevant UK authorities.

'Extensive survey'

The EC raised their concerns following a World Wildlife Fund (WWF) report into the delay to designate sites as Special Areas of Conservation, which identifies six possible sites around the UK for the protection of harbour porpoise.

The EC warned that the delay has meant that potentially damaging activities are being allowed to progress, potentially without sufficient regard to the needs for the protection of the species.

Developer RWE npower said in a statement: "We have carried out extensive ecological survey work, site investigations and consultation.

"The results and findings have helped shape the development of the wind farm design which we have taken forward into the application.

"Detailed assessment of potential impacts upon marine mammals conclude the proposed wind farm would have no significant adverse effects on Harbour Porpoise."

A Defra spokesperson said: "We are working to identify further sites to protect this important species in line with EU requirements."

A number of measures had already been taken, they said, "including introducing measures to prevent accidental entanglement in fishing nets".

Joanne Bell, spokesperson for campaigners Save Our Marine Mammals, said: "There are a massive amount of harbour porpoises in the Bristol Channel.

"We've been told the EC is taking infringement orders against the UK government, because they believe, as we do, they haven't done enough to protect the porpoises. They haven't designated any special areas of conservation."

The scheme, which would see the 220-metre high turbines built nine miles (16km) off the North Devon coast, was rejected by North Devon Council earlier this month.

However Torridge's District Council planning committee voted not to oppose the Atlantic Array.

Now independent councillor Chris Leather has put forward a new motion, calling on the council not to support the project.

That motion is due to be debated by the full council on 23 September.

The proposal will be considered by the Government's Planning Inspectorate, which is responsible for deciding large-scale infrastructure projects.

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