Hunterston Power Station

Redshank wading deep in water

Image: Graham Catley


On 26 June 2012 Peel Energy announced that it is to withdraw its application for the proposed coal-fired power station at Hunterston.

This is excellent news and the result of a hard-fought campaign by RSPB Scotland alongside a coalition of organisations under the banner of the Say No To Hunterston Campaign. Since it was first mooted in 2008, the development has become one of the most unpopular applications in Scottish planning history, with over 20,000 people objecting to the plans. 

Although this proposal has been withdrawn there is still the need to ensure that the Portencross Coast Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), which was put at risk by the Hunterston proposal, is properly protected and not put at risk from other damaging developments in the future.


In November 2008, Peel Energy and Danish power company DONG Energy announced plans for a 1,852 MW coal-fired power station on a 95-hectare (236 acre) site at Hunterston. The proposed power station would be coal-fired with up to 15% biomass.

The proposal was since included in the final National Planning Framework 2 (NPF2) as one of 14 'national developments', which are large-scale infrastructure projects deemed to be in the national interest.

Although planning permission (and other permissions as necessary) are still required, the 'need' for a national development cannot be challenged. This is being contested through a Judicial Review taken forward by a resident of North Ayrshire.

We had very serious concerns about this development and the direct damage it would have caused to the local biodiversity and indirect impacts to the wider environment through increased emissions of greenhouse gases.

In October 2009, DONG Energy announced that they were pulling out of plans to build the new power station, but Peel Energy remained committed to the project.

The full application for the power station was submitted on 2 June 2010. Additional information was sought by a number of statutory consultees and an addendum was submitted for further consultation in the summer of 2011. 

North Ayrshire Council – a key consultee – objected to the proposals. Amongst their concerns were that the power station would not capture 100 per cent of carbon emissions from the first day of operation, and that the development would have an adverse impact on landscape quality, built heritage and designated natural heritage sites.

Peel Energy's plans were due to be scrutinised at a public inquiry in October this year, triggered by the local council's objection. Along with many other organisations, local communities and individuals, The Say No To Hunterston Campaign was gearing up to fight the proposals through the inquiry, a process which would have been very expensive and time consuming for all involved.




Part of the proposed development would include building on roughly 32 hectares of Southannan Sands - an area important for its mudflat and seagrass beds, and which also supports large numbers of wintering birds such as redshanks and curlews.

Hunterston and Southannan Sands is the largest mudflat on the Ayrshire coast, and is a very significant area of intertidal habitat nestled within an otherwise rocky coastline. In 1971, it was designated as part of the Portencross Coast Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

But it isn't just the impact that the new power station would have on the SSSI - it would also lead to significant increases in carbon emissions. Though the developer has said that carbon capture and storage technology (CCS) would be used, they also admit this would only remove 15% of carbon dioxide from the outset, leaving most of the emissions to be released into the atmosphere. CCS would be far better trialled on an existing power station where real emissions reductions could be achieved.

If consented, the additional emissions resulting from the plant would have seriously undermined the Scottish Government's sustainable development and carbon reduction commitments. 

Indeed, the Scottish Government has set ambitious and welcome targets for reducing carbon emissions as part of the Climate Change (Scotland) Act. It is extremely difficult to see how these targets of a 42% reductions in Scotland's carbon emissions by 2020, and 80% by 2050, can be met if new unabated coal-fired power stations are built.

This development was of real concern to us for two reasons – firstly, it would destroy around 30 hectares of a nationally designated site of nature conservation importance, and secondly, it would cause a huge surge in Scotland's carbon emissions at a time when urgent action is needed to tackle climate change.

We objected to the proposals on the basis of unacceptable direct biodiversity impacts, unacceptable climate change impacts, and a lack of certainty over the full environmental impacts of the development.

We do not believe that building a new and largely unabated coal-fired power stations in Scotland is compatible with the Scottish Government's ambitions on climate change, particularly the legally binding targets to reduce carbon emissions by 42% by 2020, and 80% by 2050. Instead, we support the transition to a low-carbon energy sector based on an increasing focus on delivering renewable energy developments which do not have unnecessary impacts on the natural environment. Whilst we are broadly supportive of the development of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology as part of our transition to a low carbon society, we believe that CCS should be trialled on an existing power station where a real reduction in emissions would be achieved. It must not be used to justify additional greenhouse gas emissions.

We have been working closely with a number of other concerned organisationsunder the banner of the Say No to Hunterston Campaign to stop the proposals. 

And we're not the only people who were concerned, since the application was lodged more than 20,000 people have written to the Scottish Government urging them to say no to the proposal.

April 2008

Clydeport Plc (a subsidiary of Peel Ports Ltd) submit representation to the Scottish Government seeking the identification of Hunterston as a national development in NPF2

20 November 2008

Peel Ports and DONG Energy announce plans for development of a new coal-fired power station at Hunterston

18 December 2008

We write to the developers to outline serious concerns of the potential impact of the proposal

23 December 2008

Enviros Consulting Ltd, on behalf of Ayrshire Power Ltd (Peel Ports and DONG Energy), apply to Scottish Government for a scoping opinion for a proposed multi-fuel power plant in Hunterston

3 February 2009

We respond to the scoping document, outlining serious concerns over the proposal

25 June 2009

The final NPF2 is published. Proposals for a power station at Hunterston appear as a national development

July 2009

We write to both MSPs, and our members, outlining our concerns, and ask members to write to DONG Energy to make their views known

12 October 2009

We welcome the announcement by DONG Energy that they have pulled out as an investor in the Hunterston Project.

15 March 2010

Ayrshire Power Ltd submit a new planning application for ‘gate checking’

15 March 2010

We ask our members to send an objection to the Scottish Government

19 March 2010

RSPB Scotland respond to North Ayrshire Main Issues Report for Local Development Plan

2 June 2010

The full application is submitted to the Scottish Government. Following this there will be a period of at least 28 days when objections can be submitted.

2 June 2010

We again encourage our members to send an objection to the Scottish Government

20 August 2010

The official consultation period for the application closes. We lodge an objection based on direct biodiversity impacts and indirect climate impacts. More than 14,000 people have written to the Scottish Government asking them to reject the proposal

15 September 2010

Approximately 15,500 objections have been sent to the Scottish Government

27 September 2010

RSPB holds 'protest art' event at Irvine Beach

October 2010

SNH and SEPA submit responses to the Scottish Government. Both have requested additional information from Ayrshire Power. Approximately 16,000 objections have been sent to the Scottish Government. We ask our members in North Ayrshire to write to their local councillor, urging them to vote to object to Hunterston at a council meeting in January

16 November 2010

Hunterston Judicial Review commences

19 November 2010

Hunterston Judicial Review ends

24 June 2011

RSPB Scotland respond to North Ayrshire proposed Local Development Plan

20 July 2011

Developers Ayrshire Power submit further information in support of their application in the form of an addendum

3 August 2011

Scottish Government confirm that 16,763 objections have been received to date

21 September 2011

RSPB submits response to addendum, maintaining our objection to the application

29 September 2011

Consultation on the addendum closes

4 October 2011

Following the Judicial Review, the Court of Session in Edinburgh issues a ruling that Scottish Ministers did not act illegally in deciding that there was a national need for a new coal plant at Hunterston. RSPB Scotland and coalition of concerned organisations express their disappointment at this ruling. However, this does not mean that Hunterston will go ahead – it's now up to Scottish Minsters to determine the application, which has received almost 20,000 objections from members of the public

24 October 2011

North Ayrshire Council holds predetermination hearing for proposed Hunterston Power Station. RSPB Scotland gives evidence on behalf of a coalition of concerned NGOs.

9 November 2011

At a special meeting of North Ayrshire Council, councillors unanimously agree to object to proposals for a new coal-fired power station at Hunterston. This follows a recommendation from the council's Planning Officer that the council should object. This decision from the council will almost certainly trigger a public inquiry.

17 November 2011

RSPB Scotland speaks at a parliamentary seminar to update MSPs on issues relating to Hunterston

January 2012

Scottish Ministers deem that a Public Local Inquiry (PLI) will be held for the proposed coal-fired power station at Hunterston

February 2012

Hunterston has passed the 'due diligence assessment' for projects in the EU competition for CCS funding. This means the Hunterston proposal is in the shortlist for funding

May 2012

Scottish Government's Department for Planning and Environment Appeals (DPEA) writes out to everyone who has objected to, or supported, Hunterston. The letter is to inform people of the forthcoming public inquiry and details how to get involved. It confirms that all original objections will be taken into account during the inquiry. RSPB Scotland responds to the DPEA to confirm our intention to take part in the public inquiry

26 June 2012

Peel Energy announce their intention to withdraw their application for the proposed coal-fired power station at Hunterston

October 2012

RSPB provides a response to North Ayrshire Council's Modified Local Development Plan Consultation

May 2014

North Ayrshire Council expect to adopt their new Local Development Plan.

The planning application for the power station was withdrawn by Ayrshire Power in June 2012 and to date there have been no new applications.

Although the Judicial Review into the National Planning Framework 2 was unsuccessful in getting the Hunterston national development removed, the draft National Planning Framework 3, due to be finalised in June 2014, does not contain a national development at Hunterston.

North Ayrshire Council’s new Local Development Plan is due to be adopted in May 2014. The site boundary, for industrial development, at Hunterston remains unchanged despite our objections. Although the Council have made clear in the plan that development at this site would require mitigation, we have expressed disappointment in the decision as we consider the plan could lead to further developments coming forward in the future that could be just as damaging to the site as the power station proposal.