Villagers fighting plans for an electricity substation have pleaded with a government-appointed planning inspector to halt the development, which they branded as “a monstrosity”.
But as a two-day appeal hearing drew to a close this afternoon, the energy firm behind the Little Dunham proposal said any impacts on the rural landscape must be outweighed by the country’s need for renewable energy.
Warwick Energy says the project is an essential part of its planned £1.3bn Dudgeon wind farm, which it claims could power every household in Norfolk and boost the UKs offshore wind energy capacity by 35pc.
The outline substation scheme, which includes four giant converter buildings 70m long, 25m wide and 15m high on 43 acres of farmland, was initially rejected by Breckland Council in October.
But now planning inspector Christopher Frost will make recommendations to the respective secretaries of state for climate change and communities, who will have the last word on whether Warwick’s appeal is successful.
Among the villagers who accepted Mr Frost’s invitation to voice their opinions at the hearing were Wendy Brown, who said: “The people of Little Dunham have had two years of hell and horrendous stress which they did not ask for. This stress includes anger at seeing Little Dunham and surrounding areas totally spoiled and damaged, with their property devalued. I beg you, leave Little Dunham alone.”
Another, Keith Morris, said: “I spent 10 years in the forces and I thought this would be a good place to raise a family, but now I’ll be able to see this monstrosity from my bedroom window. It is a fantastic village, but if this gets built it will become a ghost town.”
In summing up Warwick’s case, planning consultant Chris Brett, said: “Clearly the main difference between our positions is the landscape issue. But the big element you need to weigh in the balance is wind energy’s vital contribution to reducing CO2 emissions. There would have to be compelling reasons for rejecting this proposal.”
Earlier, the meeting at Great Dunham village hall also heard concerns about the low-frequency transformer hum which campaigners feared could resonate throughout nearby homes.
Project director Mark Petterson said the “challenging” noise restrictions which would be attached to any future planning consent would be rigidly adhered to.
“We are not going to skimp on something like this,” he said. “We are professional engineers and we are talking about a project costing £1.3bn, so it is just not worth the risk.”
Mr Petterson also reiterated his assertion that Little Dunham, near Swaffham, was chosen from more than 100 possibilities as the most suitable place to connect to the National Grid via underground cables.
Landscape architect Susan Dodwell conceded that the proposals would change the characteristics of the area, but pointed to the biodiversity benefits of the planned landscaping of 45pc of the site with woodland, reinforced hedgerows, ponds and grassland.
Substation opponents said the screening would take years to mature and would still not fully obscure the electrical apparatus from every viewpoint. But Mr Brett said the planting would mature during the first 10 years to “assimilate the site into the landscape as far as possible”.
“We maintain that the landscape impacts in the short term are outweighed by the strong presumption of favour on the renewable energy project,” he said.
Simon Fowler, chairman of Little Dunham Parish Council, questioned why a site was chosen on raised ground in one of the highest areas of Norfolk, visible on the horizon from 6km away in Holme Hale.
“This industrial clutter would cover an area equal to 10 Trafalgar Squares, and that is an enormous footprint to have so close to our village,” he said. “We support the political imperative for green energy. We just think the appellant has sought to put this converter station on a plateau next to a village, and for those two simple reasons I urge you to reject the appeal.”
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