The growing importance of robust socio-economic inputs to offshore wind applications

This insight piece sets out a series of important considerations within the socio-economics workstream of an offshore wind application, and HJA’s services in delivering robust solutions in support of applications.

Insight Author

Joshua Harding-Jones

Senior Consultant

HJA has delivered socio-economic inputs to applications for multiple offshore wind farm projects across the UK. This includes socio-economics ES chapters, technical economic impact reports, and outline skills and employment plans.

In combination these projects will generate around 7.1 GW of renewable electricity – enough to power over 5 million homes across the UK. Situated in English, Scottish, and Welsh waters, our work on these projects has given us experience across UK consenting regimes.

Socio-economics EIA

Potential impacts

HJA delivers socio-economics EIAs which assess the potential impacts a project might have on the following environmental conditions:

  • Economic: assessing the potential employment and GVA impacts associated with the project and the associated impacts on local employment opportunities.
  • Social: assessing the potential impacts of the workforce associated with the project on population, housing, and local services.
  • Tourism: assessing the potential indirect impacts on tourism associated with visual amenity, visitor accommodation, and recreation.

Socio-economics EIA practice has typically focused on assessing economic impacts, with limited bandwidth given to ‘socio’ (or social) impacts. Current best practice determines that both economic and social impacts should be treated with equal importance. A robust assessment of potential social impacts is rapidly receiving increased scrutiny within the Scottish consenting context in particular. Given our experience working across UK consenting regimes, HJA is well positioned to advise clients on the latest requirements in this area.

There can also be other project-specific impacts which require assessment. For example, the socio-economic impacts of offshore wind development on island communities can become a key project risk where schemes have been assessed to have significant adverse effects on lifeline ferry routeing.

Defining offshore study areas

One key aspect of a socio-economics EIA is determining the most suitable offshore study areas to assess. Unlike the majority of other topics, the socio-economic impacts associated with an offshore wind farm are not linked directly to the project site. This is particularly the case for offshore infrastructure, where despite the location of the project site, impacts will manifest onshore. Industry best practice guidance (Marine Scotland, 2022) sets out that the various components which contribute to the delivery of offshore wind developments have different ‘epicentres of impact’ – locations from where the potential impacts ‘radiate’, including construction and operations and maintenance ports involved in the delivery of offshore infrastructure.

This presents a different challenge to determining appropriate study areas for assessment. We therefore apply our experience and expertise in national and local government strategic planning policy, functional economic market areas, population and labour market statistics, renewable and low carbon energy sectors, and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to identify appropriate study areas for assessment.

Furthermore, the process for defining local study areas of socio-economic assessment will vary depending on the impacts that are considered. Economic impacts should be assessed separately from social impacts, and consider different local study areas. Within socio-economics EIA practice, this is termed the ‘dual geography’ principle. We apply the dual geography principle to our EIA work, and take this principle further by considering tourism impacts in their own right, and defining a separate local study area for tourism.

Interactions with other topics

The assessment of socio-economic impacts increasingly requires practitioners to seek inputs from other topics.

For example, the assessment of potential tourism effects requires consideration of indirect impacts associated with visual amenity. Therefore, our approach draws on the visual impacts chapter and applies its findings to assessing potential tourism effects, alongside a review of the evidence of potential linkages between offshore wind farms and the visitor economy.

Overall, whilst there are some negative perceptions of the potential visual impacts of offshore wind farms on an area’s visitor economy, there are a number of mitigating factors which can result in positive impacts on an area’s visitor economy. It is also anticipated that any potential tourism impacts would be predominantly short term in nature, with opportunity for visitor economy adaptation in the longer term once an offshore wind farm becomes part of the baseline conditions of a location.

Berwick Bank Offshore Wind Farm: Socio-economics ES Chapter

Technical economic impact reporting

As a specialist economic development consultancy, HJA has experience and expertise in modelling the economic impacts associated with development schemes. We can therefore deliver a bespoke technical impact report as part of our socio-economic inputs to offshore wind applications. This provides estimates of economic impacts in terms of jobs and GVA at the project, UK and local levels. Our reporting presents a number of potential future scenarios based on current and potential future infrastructure and supply chain capabilities.

Our specialisms in both economic impact modelling and EIA are advantageous, as this allows for a comprehensive understanding of impact drivers from an EIA practitioner perspective, which supports a more robust assessment overall.

Morgan Offshore Wind Project: Socio-economics technical impact report

Skills and Employment Plan

The socio-economics workstream often presents an opportunity for applications to set out measure aimed at enhancing beneficial impacts, as well as mitigating adverse impacts. One such enhancement measure includes a Skills and Employment Plan, which sets out how applicants intend to develop and support the economic benefits associated with a project in relation to skills and employment within the offshore wind sector.

Drawing on our expertise and experience in labour market conditions and skills and training initiatives, we deliver Skills and Employment Plans setting out objectives to increase offshore wind skills and employment through education, apprenticeships, and workforce development.

Mona Offshore Wind Project: Outline Skills and Employment Plan

Get in touch

If you would like to discuss how HJA can provide specialist support to help you deliver robust socio-economic inputs to a major energy infrastructure project, please contact myself or our service lead Stuart Hardisty.