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Judge overturns government approval of Norfolk offshore wind farm

Words: Laura Edgar
Offshore wind farm / iStock-658444568

A High Court judge has overturned the energy secretary’s decision to grant a development consent order (DCO) to construct and operate an offshore wind farm off the coast of Norfolk.

Norfolk Vanguard Ltd's plans were for about 592 square kilometres over two distinct areas – Norfolk Vanguard East and Norfolk Vanguard West.

Considered under the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP) regime, a DCO was granted for 180 wind turbine generators and associated onshore and offshore infrastructure.

The examining authority – the Planning Inspectorate – had recommended that the scheme should be refused.

The judicial review was brought by Norfolk resident Raymond Pearce, who was concerned about the impact the scheme would have on the landscape and the view.

Justice Holgate noted that the Vanguard development is “closely related” to Vattenfall’s (parent company of Norfolk Vanguard) Boreas offshore wind farm project, which would be located immediately north-east of the Vanguard site. Together, they would have an export capacity of 3.6GW. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy expects a decision on the Boreas scheme to be made in April 2021.

Vattenfall proposed that the onshore infrastructure for both schemes be co-located, which involves a cable route carrying high-voltage direct current for 60km from the landfall at Happisburgh to a substation site near the village of Necton. From here, the power would be converted to alternating current and fed into the National Grid.

Vattenfall has assessed the cumulative impacts arising from both schemes, including landscape and visual impacts from the infrastructure proposed at Necton. This resulted in objections from Pearce, who lives near the planned cable route, about the effects of Vanguard's onshore infrastructure at Necton and the cumulative impacts if the Boreas scheme were to be granted development consent.

The examining authority and then-energy secretary Alok Sharma decided that consideration of any cumulative impacts should be deferred to any subsequent examination of the Boreas proposal.

Holgate considered whether the energy secretary acted unlawfully by deferring this consideration, if the reasons for the deferral were legally inadequate, and “in the event of the court deciding that the defendant erred in law in either of those two respects, whether it should refuse to grant relief in the exercise of its discretion”.

On behalf of the energy secretary, Richard Moules argued that he had taken into account material on cumulative impacts but, because of the limited information available on Boreas, he deferred his decision on how those impacts should be evaluated and weighed to the DCO process on Boreas.

“The same type and amount of information was available for Boreas as for Vanguard and yet the solus effects of the latter were assessed by the defendant in his decision,” the decision document explains. “The lack of information is the sole reason given for the decision to defer, but this was not raised by the examining authority during the examination, nor by any participant... The shared infrastructure and co-location aspects (including combined mitigation) of the two ‘sister’ projects made it necessary for cumulative impacts to be assessed in the decision on the Vanguard DCO.”

Holgate said he was in no doubt that the energy secretary “did act in breach of the [Infrastructure Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations 2009] by failing to evaluate the information before him on the cumulative impacts of the Vanguard and Boreas substation development, which had been assessed by Norfolk Vanguard Limited as likely to be significant adverse environmental effects. The defendant unlawfully deferred his evaluation of those effects simply because he considered the information on the development for connecting Boreas to the National Grid was ‘limited’”.

The judge resolved to quash the DCO.

Responding to the decision, Danielle Lane, Vattenfall head of market development offshore and UK country manager, said: “This is a very disappointing outcome, but it relates to the process for granting consent and is not about the merits of our world-class Norfolk Vanguard project.

“Planning consent was awarded in July 2020 after Vattenfall fulfilled all the requirements placed on developers. It’s vital that the government now acts to redetermine consent, with regard to the judge’s ruling, as quickly as possible. That way, we can continue to invest in the region and remain on track to begin generating low-cost, renewable electricity by the late 2020s.

“With the expansion in offshore wind that”s required for the UK to reach net-zero by 2050, the planning process needs to be able to address and resolve issues much sooner and avoid the uncertainty about whether projects will proceed even after they have planning approval.”

The decision can be found here.

Read more:

Sharma approves Norfolk Vanguard’s DCO application

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