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Huge wind farm off Norfolk coast approved despite concerns

One of the world’s biggest wind farms will be built off the Norfolk coast after the government gave it the go-ahead – despite concerns about the impact on wildlife and villages in the county.

Danish company Ørsted has been granted development consent for its Hornsea Project Three offshore wind farm.

It will see cables laid in a 35 mile long trench from Weybourne on the coast, to Swardeston, south of Norwich, to connect the power generated by the turbines to the National Grid.

The wind farm would have a capacity of 2.4 Gigawatts, generating energy for two million homes.

The application was originally lodged in May 2018 and was subject to a six-month examination.

On Thursday, December 31, Alok Sharma, secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy, announced he was granting development consent.

That came despite a string of concerns raised, including about the impact of traffic in Cawston and Oulton during construction.

Natural England expressed concern about the damage to the Norfolk countryside during construction and to marine habitats, while the RSPB feared the development will harm a colony of kittiwakes at Flamborough Head in Yorkshire.

Thirty Norfolk parish councils called for a decision to be delayed pending discussions over developers joining together to use an offshore ring main, which would eliminate the need for individual substations and cable corridors.

But the secretary of state concluded the benefits of the scheme, coupled with mitigation measures, outweighed harm.

He said, while the offshore ring main concept was being explored, he had to make a decision on current policy.

On the extra traffic for Cawston and Oulton during construction, he acknowledged that would be “substantial”, but said mitigation measures would “satisfactorily reduce noise and disturbance for local residents to acceptable levels”.

On Natural England’s concern over damage to the Norfolk countryside during construction, he said it would be “short-term” and minimised by mitigation.

However, he said marine habitats at North Norfolk Sandbanks and Saturn Reef Special Area of Conservation, along with The Wash and North Norfolk Coast Special Area of Conservation will be lost or changed by cable protection measures.

The applicants put forward a mitigation strategy, including restoring more than 100 acres of blue mussel bed and to recover lost and abandoned fishing gear from both areas.

The secretary of state said the mussel bed restoration was not required, but said lost and abandoned fishing gear must be recovered to “improve the condition of the sandbank habitats for endemic epifauna communities”.

Duncan Clark, head of region UK at Ørsted, said he was “delighted” consent had been granted.

He said: “This determination is the culmination of a thorough and rigorous process which ensures that the project can deliver much needed clean energy at scale for the UK, whilst ensuring the potential environmental impacts of the project are minimised.

“The unique compensation plan for Hornsea Three demonstrates that the industry can continue to deliver on the government’s offshore wind ambition of 40GW by 2030 in a sensitive and environmentally responsible way.

“Climate change remains a very serious threat to our environment and habitats and there is an ever pressing need to act.

“Once complete, Hornsea Three could provide clean power to over two million UK homes and offset over 128.2 million tonnes of carbon dioxide over its lifetime.

“It will make a significant contribution towards meeting the UK’s net zero commitments and in the crucial fight against climate change.

“We will now be reviewing the full development consent order and will continue to work closely with stakeholders and local communities as we take the project forward.”