The Major Projects Manager reported that the High Court had quashed the Planning Inspector’s decision regarding the Vanguard wind farm and there was currently no decision on this application. The matter would now be referred back to the Secretary of State for reconsideration. There was a strong likelihood that the examination would be reopened for this application and the Boreas application as they would use the same route and landfall at Happisburgh, with connection to the grid at Necton, and the proposals therefore affected each other. If the examination were reopened, it would involve more time commitment for himself and colleagues. Members would be kept informed on this matter.
The Major Projects Manager informed the Committee that Hornsea Project 3 had been granted consent in December 2020. This would make landfall at Weybourne and connect to the Norwich main substation. He was not aware that the decision had been challenged.
The Major Projects Manager stated that there was disquiet locally as to how these offshore windfarms would reach the grid connection points. There had been discussion regarding an offshore ring main, but this would not necessarily resolve all the issues and presented a great deal of challenge in terms of offshore infrastructure, impact on marine conservation zones and other possible impacts. There was a need for the country to generate electricity through non-fossil fuel methods and there were many challenges as to how this could be achieved and how it could be connected to the grid. There would be increasing pressure to supply infrastructure to satisfy demand as gas boilers were phased out.
The Chairman stated that underground cables had been laid through the countryside over the last 30 to 40 years and there was no longer any evidence of their existence on the ground. She considered that the problem with the current proposals was the sensitive nature of the area they would pass through.
The Major Projects Manager explained that the issues were mainly centred around Necton. The substation required for Vanguard would be much larger than the existing Dudgeon substation. The key issue in this case was that approval of the Vanguard scheme would effectively give permission for Boreas by default. The Judge had ruled that the examining authority and the Secretary of State had not considered the cumulative impact issues of the proposal, it had been assessed in an illogical way and the decision breached the EIA Regulations. It was hoped that the Inspector would follow up this matter and issue a sound decision. The Major Projects Manager stated that in his opinion the project was likely to go ahead as there appeared to be no other alternatives for generating electricity. However, there was a need to ensure that the impacts were properly managed and mitigated, particularly for local people who were already badly affected. People were concerned that these projects were not joined up and the construction process would be extended. He hoped that the Government would recognise this District’s efforts in enabling these projects to connect to the grid and provide funding for tree planting or improvements to climate change resilience.
Councillor A Brown reported that Duncan Baker MP had raised a question in Parliament and the Prime Minister had agreed to consider the regulatory framework mechanism required to review how the cabling would be installed. Councillor Brown declared that he was a member of Corpusty and Saxthorpe Parish Council, which had recently held discussions with Mr Baker regarding the cabling issue. The new Energy Minister was aware of the problems that multiple cabling could cause in the area and would consider whether the infrastructure of the wind turbines should be the first stage of the development project rather than the cabling, thus allowing more time to consider alternatives in greater detail. He stated that if the Hornsea project went ahead with AC transmission there would be a substation built close to Edgefield and there would be a very significant amount of disturbance in the area.
Councillor R Kershaw referred to the South North Sea Hydrogen East project which tied in with Vattenfall and the growth of windfarms in the North Sea. These windfarms were essential to provide the power needed to generate the green hydrogen required to protect the climate, and the Climate Change Committee 10 point plan was now putting weight behind these developments. An opportunity had been missed some years ago to develop an offshore ring main that these fields could feed into and it was now not possible given the timeframe for their construction. He emphasised the importance of wind power in turning the economy around, protecting the AONB and saving the planet.
Councillor N Lloyd stated that failing to bring these projects through would lead to the destruction of the AONB and SSSIs through rising sea levels. He referred to the oil and gas industry, which had worked together to share pipelines very successfully over the past 40 years. He had been petitioned strongly at the Environment Forum in 2019 by residents of Reepham, who accepted some disruption in order to lay cables, but objected to multiple excavations which were unnecessary, and he had raised these issues with Vanguard. He considered that the Government needed to sort out the cabling route issue quickly, as projects such as these would save the country from flooding and protect areas such as North Norfolk.
The Major Projects Manager stated that Vanguard had been persuaded to lay ducting for the Boreas scheme at the same time. The issue of grid connectivity was higher up in the process and needed direction from the Government. Whilst it appeared that this issue was to be considered, he was unsure if it would be early enough for these schemes.
The Major Projects Manager reported that the decision was still awaited in respect of Beresford Road, Holt and he would let Members know the outcome when it was received.