Graphic: Vision for £325m energy plant in heart of Norwich is revealed

Professor Trevor Davies, from the University of East Anglia, on the site of the proposed £325m Gener

Professor Trevor Davies, from the University of East Anglia, on the site of the proposed £325m Generation Park development. Picture by SIMON FINLAY. - Credit: Archant Norfolk

A £325m energy plant could be built in Norwich, with supporters claiming it will create hundreds of jobs and put the city at the forefront of tackling climate change.

An artist's impression of what Generation Park could look like from the proposed new bridge.

An artist's impression of what Generation Park could look like from the proposed new bridge. - Credit: Submitted

But, with the plant likely to need a 55m high chimney and the debacle of the King's Lynn incinerator still fresh in the mind, those behind the scheme realise they will have to convince the public of its merits.

The University of East Anglia is one of the prime investors in the proposal for the 30 acre Utilities site - a patch of wasteland between Thorpe Hamlet and Whitlingham.

If Generation Park goes ahead, it would create 250 jobs during construction and 500 once complete.

Along with a straw-burning energy plant, it would include 120 new homes, student accommodation, an education centre, a research base, 11 acres of parkland, plus new cycle routes and walkways.

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A new bridge would also be built over the river, connecting the site to the nearby Deal Ground. That would serve as the main access to the site, although developers say, as far as possible, the site would be car free.

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The plant would burn 200,000 tonnes of compressed straw a year to generate electricity. Developers say it would produce the equivalent of power for 88,000 homes.

That would be sold back to the National Grid, or to city businesses, while power firm E.ON would capture steam produced to heat homes and businesses. It is likely to only be new housing developments which would benefit from that 'district heating'.

Straw pellets would arrive by train about four times a week, with freight timed so it does not interfere with passenger trains.

Professor Trevor Davies, the UEA's pro-vice chancellor of research, has been promoting such a scheme for more than a decade.

He said: 'This will reduce Norwich's carbon footprint by 22pc and put the city at the forefront of carbon reduction.

'This is a hugely exciting and visionary scheme for Norwich that meets many needs. It delivers clean green energy as electricity, heating and hot water, whilst rejuvenating an eyesore site close to the city centre.'

Following the controversy which surrounded Norfolk County Council's aborted plans for incinerators at Costessey and King's Lynn, Prof Davies was keen to highlight the green credentials of this technology.

While it would burn only straw pellets, he conceded the plant would produce a small amount of pollution, such as carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides, and that the prevailing winds would blow towards Thorpe St Andrew.

But he said the height of the chimney would mean emissions would be at a very high level, dispersed far away from the city, with any impact at ground level 'minimal'.

The scheme is supported by business bosses and education leaders, with City College Norwich welcoming the chance for students to learn skills at the education centre.

Apart from the UEA and E.ON, the details of who else will invest in the site are not yet publicly available. But other similar projects have been partly financed by fund and trust managers which specialise in putting capital into renewable energy schemes to bring dividends for shareholders.

Norwich North MP Chloe Smith said Generation Park seemed a positive proposal, particularly with the potential of new jobs.

But she added: 'As with any project, it will have to go through all the planning procedures and I expect it to be scrutinised by councils and local people. I would expect the views of residents to be taken into account.'

Richard Bearman, leader of the Green group at Norfolk County Council, said: 'Whilst the Greens would welcome any proposal bringing a clean and innovative renewable energy source for city businesses and people, we will want to make sure that this scheme really does bring lasting environmental benefits.'

The proposals will go on show at Norwich City Football Club on Friday, January 30, between 2pm and 7pm and from 9am until 1pm the next day.

A planning application is due to be lodged in the summer. If approved, work would start next year, with the energy plant up and running in 2018.

• What do you think? Write, giving full contact details, to Letters Editor, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE.

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