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Opposition is growing in north Norfolk to offshore wind farms

When it comes to offshore wind energy, Weybourne is fast becoming a Mecca.

The latest wind farm to open off the Norfolk coast, Dudgeon, comes ashore at the seaside village. The Sheringham Shoal wind farm also makes landfall there.

But they will both be dwarfed by the latest proposed offshore wind farm, being built by Danish firm Orsted which will be the biggest in the world when it opens in late 2020s.

Called Hornsea Three, it could mean up to 11 years of construction work spread out over three phases at Weybourne as trenches are dug to bring the cables ashore and connect them to the National Grid at a new electrical substation south of Norwich.

Orsted stressed the 11-year period was under the worst case scenario and the work would be for a few months in one place at a time.

In 2012, councillors at North Norfolk District Council (NNDC) rejected a plan to lay cables 28 kilometres underground from Weybourne to Great Ryburgh because of damage to landscape and agriculture.

This time, the energy company wants to cut a trench 55km long with a construction area 80 metres wide, and NNDC will not decide the application.

The scheme is so big it is considered of “national significance” and will therefore go to the Planning Inspectorate.

A report from NNDC in September said the long-term impacts of Hornsea Three on the area would be “pretty benign” – apart from a relay station which may need to be built up to 12.5 metres high between Little Barningham and Edgefield.

NNDC’s report did, however, share the concerns of the rest of community about the impact of the construction on tourism, particularly when energy firm Vattenfall will also separately be digging a 60km long trench from Happisburgh to Necton to connect two of its wind farms to the National Grid.

The NNDC report said it would bring “few, if any, wider or long term benefits to the area” – something disputed by the energy firms.

At a meeting at the start of December councillors also raised their objections to the Vattenfall project and the consultation on it.

Meanwhile, Weybourne Parish Council responded to Orsted’s consultation with “serious concerns” about the construction work.

The parish council said the work would compromise tourism and increase traffic. It called for compensation for the village.

A relay station, 12.5 metres high and covering around six acres, with another six acres needed as a construction compound would also be built in countryside near Corpusty and Edgefield to get the electricity to the National Grid under an option called Alternating Current (AC).

Under a second option called Direct Current (DC) no relay stations would be needed. But Orsted will not decide whether to use DC or AC until later.

Both Orsted and Vattenfall are applying for planning permission to use either option, despite the large differences between the two.

Friends of North Norfolk chairman Godfrey Sayers said: “It is pretty special countryside. We have responded to the consultation wanting DC instead.

“Orsted doesn’t have to make a decision until after they get planning permission – that seems to be wrong.”

North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb said he supported offshore wind farms but he also criticised the way companies were able to put two different options on the table, get permission for both and then chose one.

“I think the Government could and should play a role in that debate,” he said. “They (the energy firms) say it is premature to be discussing in any detail. “That is like saying the public can not have a say even though it is having a massive impact on local communities.”

After Weybourne the cable trench then cuts south to High Kelling, Corpusty, Salle Park and Reepham where it will cross the cable corridor being built by Vattenfall for their wind farms off the east Norfolk coast.

A report written for Orsted about the impact on the environment said the effects of construction on the Norfolk landscape “were mainly assessed to be not significant” and the energy firms would return the land back to normal after the trench was dug, where possible.

But the temporary effects of construction “on a number of local character areas” would have “major adverse” impact, it read.

After Reepham the trench will continue south to Weston Longville and cross the A47 by Easton before looping around south west of Norwich near Hethersett and ending at Swardeston where a new substation will be built.

Mr Lamb added: “Government and companies can not ride roughshod over local communities. To deliver these energy projects they need to take local people with them.

•What the energy companies say

Vattenfall and Orsted said they were regularly speaking to one another to reduce the disruption of building the two underground cable corridors.

Particular disruption is expected near Reepham where they cross.

A Vattenfall spokesman said: “The UK is facing a looming energy gap, and offshore wind, as one of the cheapest forms of large scale energy generation has consistently delivered on time and on budget, and of course addresses another UK legal obligation – to reduce carbon emissions, we can all appreciate why the drive is on.

“As the project takes shape, there will be more we can do to work with Norfolk to ensure project delivery works for and with Norfolk.”

An Orsted spokesman said: “The offshore wind farm has the potential to deliver significant benefits to Norfolk and beyond in terms of the clean energy generated and economic activity associated with such a large project.”