Tears, then jubilation after sub-station plan is rejected

Campaigners in a Norfolk village were celebrating last night after councillors rejected plans for a substantial electricity sub-station.

About 100 protesters descended on Breckland Council's Dereham offices, many of them waving banners and placards, to hear the long-awaited verdict on the scheme that had been drawn up for Little Dunham, near Swaffham, as part of a green energy project.

There were cheers and the stamping of feet when the development control committee voted by seven to one to reject Warwick Energy's planning application.

Earlier, there had been tears in the emotion of the council debate.

The sub-station would have enabled the 560MW Dudgeon offshore windfarm, to be built off Cromer, to link up with the national grid and would have occupied 9.3 hectares (23 acres) of a field off Necton Road.

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After hearing from both sides at a tense three-hour meeting, members rejected the application because of the harm that the sub-station would do to the local landscape.

Members felt the proposed landscaping, including an earth mound and extensive planting, would not outweigh the damage done.

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Council member John Labouchere said: 'I feel very strongly that the planting of this sort of equipment in open countryside is very difficult to justify. As a Norfolk boy, I don't want to leave the council having contributed to the rape of this area.'

And Frank Sharpe said: 'Like all businesses, they (Warwick Energy) are going to look after their pennies –they have to. But if they looked into their hearts they could find a more appropriate place, tucked away, although it may cost them a few more pennies.'

Pamela Spencer said that 'monstrous' pylons at Little Dunham were a blot enough on the landscape.

Mark Petterson, project manager for the Dudgeon windfarm, rubbished suggestions that the choice of site for the sub-station had been incomplete and said the decision had been taken on environmental, not cost grounds.

He said the whole project was of national importance and would create enough energy for 400,000 homes – the equivalent of every house in the county.

'You have my full assurance that we are entirely content to work with officers to agree a final scheme,' Mr Petterson added.

He also outlined plans to plant 20 acres of woodland to screen the sub-station from the village.

But councillor Nigel Wilkin said: 'The nature of the landscape means that any form of landscaping would in its own way be alien.'

Simon Fowler, chairman of Dunham Parish Council, told the committee: 'We are a village of fewer than 300 people and we feel very alone at the moment.'

Another parish council representative, Emma Kriehn-Morris, broke down in tears as she urged the committee not to let the 'heart and soul' of the village be destroyed.

'You have a duty of care to protect us, and we need your protection now,' she said.

The committee did approve the company's plans to lay 17km of electrical cables for the 168-turbine windfarm; these will run through 11 Breckland villages, crossing several roads, rivers and streams.

After the meeting, Little Dunham campaigner Paul Gardner said: 'We are delighted the committee has supported the views of the local community. Putting one of the largest sub-stations in Europe in the middle of Norfolk is completely the wrong thing to do. It's not about green energy: it's about sensitivity when that green energy comes ashore.'

Mr Petterson said Warwick would now review its position and consider whether to go to appeal.

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