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Fury at ‘chequebook democracy’ as North Norfolk District Council drops Weybourne windfarm cables appeal fight

‘Chequebook democracy’ was condemned today as a council abandoned its opposition to 28km of buried cables to serve a £1.5bn offshore windfarm.

Last month, North Norfolk District Council (NNDC) decided it did not have the money required to fight an appeal by Warwick against its earlier decision to refuse permission for the cabling across its patch to serve the Dudgeon windfarm.

And this morning, the council’s development committee voted by 11 to three to not defend the looming appeal and to “invite the inspector to grant planning permission”.

The issue prompted anger in the chamber.

Michael Baker, who voted against dropping the appeal fight, said: “We’ve had chequebook journalism, and we now have chequebook democracy and chequebook planning.

“It is a sad day for this country. This application will still be affecting the landscape in millennia to come. There are compelling landscape and agricultural reasons to defend this and to defend our democracy.”

Ann Green said: “Two farmers and all five parish councils in my ward have objected to this. This matter is being handled undemocratically and it’s up to us to ensure that democracy is upheld.”

Other councillors admitted they were only reluctantly making the decision to abandon the appeal defence.

Benji Cabbell-Manners said: “I can see no alternative but to go for this option, but to tighten up on the conditions.”

Dick Shepherd said: “We live in austere times and we have to cut our cloth and be practical.”

The change of heart has arisen because the decision in January to refuse permission for the cables went against the planning officers’ recommendation.

It meant the officers could not defend the council at appeal – leaving members to do it and “very significantly” increasing the possibility of defeat and six-figure costs against NNDC, according to advice from counsel.

Breckland District Council has already allowed a similar application for 17km of cabling in its area, which would link the Dudgeon windfarm to a planned sub-station in the Dereham area.

After last month’s decision by NNDC’s full council to not pay to defend an appeal, Mark Petterson, project director for Warwick, said: “You could argue the silent majority are finally getting their say. It’s not as if this area is unknown to this type of project. You have got an established underground cable route from Sheringham Shoal, which has gone in without a problem.”

Warwick has claimed the 168-turbine farm would generate enough electricity to power 400,000 homes.