November 7, 2012

Little Dunham substation inquiry hears villagers ‘feel alone’ in fight against proposals

By Sophie Wyllie | Eastern Daily Press | November 7, 2012 |

Villagers in a mid-Norfolk community feel “outraged” and “dismayed” that a second public inquiry into a controversial electricity substation started today (Tuesday).

The proposal for the substation off Necton Road, near Little Dunham, was originally submitted to Breckland Council by green energy company Warwick Energy.

But in October 2010, Breckland’s planning committee rejected the plan for the substation, which would link the 560MW Dudgeon Offshore Wind Farm to be built off Cromer, with the national grid.

Simon Fowler, Little Dunham Parish Council chairman, said during the opening of the hearing at Great Dunham Village Hall: “We are a village of under 300 people. We were mystified in November 2009 when the parish council received a letter from the appellant (Dudgeon) asking about a place for a public meeting. It was not until a night at Necton Village Hall in November 2009 that we became aware of the scale of what was proposed.”

The inquiry is being led by planning inspector John Watson and will continue tomorrow at the village hall. It will be resumed at the Ecotech Centre in Swaffham on Thursday, November 15, and Friday, November 16.

Mr Fowler added the villagers mounted a “vigorous” campaign against the plans after they were put into Breckland a few days before Christmas 2009.

Following the council’s refusal, a two-day public inquiry was held in June last year and Breckland’s decision was upheld by the planning inspector and the secretaries of state for energy and communities in September.

However, the High Court ordered the ministers to reconsider their decision in April this year after ruling the planning inspector had considered the issue of alternative sites without allowing Dudgeon to make representations.

Mr Fowler added: “We received another Christmas present from the appellant in 2010 when they said they would lodge an appeal. There is outrage and dismay in the village.

“We feel let down by the part of the system designed to protect the underdog so we are now facing a second appeal. We also feel very much alone.”

Despite Little Dunham always being Warwick’s preferred site for the substation the company submitted plans to Breckland for the substation to be built off the A47 near Necton, which was approved last month.

At the beginning of the hearing Mr Watson said he would have to consider the Necton plans because there could be a possibility that both substations are built.

Richard Kimblin, for Dudgeon, said the original plans for Little Dunham have been refined, there would be less electrical buildings and more natural screening because the substation would use an alternate power supply to connect to the national grid.

“The substation is an essential element of the scheme. The appellant has gone to great lengths looking at sites for connection to the national grid. The number of realistic possibilities is very small. The Little Dunham site is preferable, which has always been the case,” he added.

Residents laughed when Mr Kimblin said the substation would have a “minor” impact on the village.

Mr Fowler said the proposed bund around the site would be an “alien feature” and the revised plans breached Breckland’s planning policy.

Michael Horn, Breckland’s solicitor, said the authority would be commenting on the original 2010 plans, rather than the revised plans, because they had not come before the planning committee.

The Dudgeon project, previously led by Warwick, was taken over by Norwegian renewable energy companies Statoil and Stratkraft last month.

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