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Campaigners fear ‘destruction of Norfolk’ after windfarm decision

The go-ahead for one of the world’s biggest wind farms off the north Norfolk coast has been met with despair from campaigners.

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

The project will see cables laid in a 35-mile long trench from Weybourne to Swardeston, south of Norwich, to connect the 2.4giggawatts of power generated by the turbines to the National Grid.

Ray Pearce, 60, who will live metres away from the underground cables for both the Ørsted and Vattenfall wind farms, said the decision to go ahead with the project would lead to the “destruction of Norfolk”.

Vattenfall was given permission for its Vanguard windfarm earlier this year, but it is now subject to judicial review.

He said: “I am completely disappointed with the decision. What is the point of a national planning inspectorate carrying out a huge consultation, making a recommendation to him, for him to once again overturn it?

“We all want offshore wind, we just want it done in the best way possible.”

The plans, which were met fierce local opposition, were recommended for refusal by an expert planning panel. However, Alok Sharma, secretary of state for business, energy, and industrial strategy, approved the wind farm on December 31, 2020.

Concerns from 23 parish councils in Norfolk, Norfolk County Council, and North Norfolk District Council (NNDC) included the impact of traffic in Cawston and Oulton during construction, damage to the Norfolk countryside, and the effects on tourism in Weybourne and Kelling.

Sarah Butikofer, the leader of NNDC, said: “I think it is more than disappointing that once again government has announced such important news, when the attention of many will have been diverted.

“This is an incredibly difficult situation, on the one hand I welcome the contribution this development will make towards the UK’s target for renewable energy moving forwards, in 2030 and 2050, but I remain deeply concerned about the very likely impacts this will have on communities who have already been adversely effected by previous programmes.

“The long construction programme will undoubtedly leave a lasting impression on our tourist and agricultural businesses, which I doubt will ever be adequately addressed by Community Benefit Funds. Just this summer the community asked for assistance in providing personal hygiene facilities at Weybourne, and were told the cost could not be met. How can a community have faith that this fund really will meet their needs?”

She said NNDC would continue to “engage positively” with National Grid proposals for an offshore transmission network, but said she feared it would not be in place in time to protect communities from the development.

“As our communities would expect we will be seeking an early meeting with Orsted to understand more details on the project,” she said.

Jenny Smedley, from the Necton Substations Action Group, said the secretary of state had “made a mockery” of the work and advice of the planning inspectorate.

She said: “These projects take years to go through the planning process, and thousands of citizens take weeks and months off their jobs to give solid evidence and do hours of unpaid work they have not been trained for.”

She said she understood the government wanting to meet its carbon targets by 2030, but said it had already accepted the current connection strategy is “out of date”, and said delaying the projects would allow them to be connected through under-development new systems.

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.

Duncan Baker, MP for North Norfolk, said: “The environment and how we decarbonise continues to be one of the most important issues this country faces.

“We know clean, wind-generated power off our Norfolk coast will play a key role in reducing our carbon emissions.

“All year I have campaigned and been hugely successful in changing the government’s attitude to connecting these vast wind farms to the National Grid to protect our environment.

“Although that is a long term vision I have already been in touch with Orsted about working with them and minimising the damaging cable corridor effects and how to maximise financial contributions to projects in our coastal communities.”