Wind farm company seeks powers from government to work on private land near Fakenham - without the landowners’ permission

The Sheringham Shoal Offshore Wind Farm, which is run by Statoil and Statkraft through the joint venture company Scira.

The Sheringham Shoal Offshore Wind Farm, which is run by Statoil and Statkraft through the joint venture company Scira. Statoil and Statkraft are now behind plans for the Dudgeon Offshore Wind Farm. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: IAN BURT

A conflict between people's fiercely-defended right to privacy and the need to reach the government's renewable energy targets is evident in a dispute between a wind farm company and three Norfolk land owners.

ADAM LAZZARI reports...

The subject of wind farms, both onshore and offshore, will always polarise opinions.

But, in a case near Fakenham, where an energy company has made a controversial request to the government for special powers to allow it to dig up private land and install cables – against three landowners' wishes – the issue has come to a head.

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One of the landowners concerned said he felt there would be no justice in allowing a multi-billion pound company to override his right to privacy.

But Dudgeon Offshore Wind (DOW) said it has made the move as a last resort after a year of negotiations.

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The company claims the public benefits that would arise from its work outweigh the landowners' private loss.

DOW, which is owned by the two Norwegian energy companies Statoil and Statkraft, wants to dig a trench, approximately 29 miles long and up to 40 metres wide, and install cables between Weybourne and a sub-station at Necton, near Swaffham, to serve the £1.5bn Dudgeon Offshore Wind Farm.

The wind farm, which could have up to 168 turbines, is planned to be built off the north Norfolk coast and has been granted planning permission.

Most of the land needed for the cabling work is agricultural and DOW says that it has come to agreements with the majority of the 44 landowners concerned, but has failed to do so with three of them.

The company has written to the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Ed Davey, asking for a compulsory purchase order on land east of Fakenham at Croxton, Kettlestone, Great Ryburgh, Little Ryburgh and Gateley.

The land that would be under this order covers a total of approximately three miles.

If the order is granted, the landowners would continue to own their land, but DOW would be allowed to do the work necessary to install the underground cabling.

DOW say they have offered compensation and done everything possible to minimise disruption and enable the agricultural work at these locations to continue.

But Richard Cole, who is refusing to allow the company to work on his land at Kettlestone, said: 'Why should people like me, quietly enjoying our land, be subjected to this disruption from big Norwegian energy companies? Where is the justice in that?

'I just have a small farm here and the work wouldn't disrupt that side of things for me, but I know it will cause big problems for others and it is still an inconvenience to me.

'The compensation being offered is nowhere near suitable for the inconvenience that will be caused for this ill-conceived scheme which will see miles of Norfolk countryside dug up.'

He added: 'I am opposed to the government's energy policy. The British consumer is going to have to pay for these subsidised schemes which will see money going to overseas companies.'

Kari Hege Mørk, stakeholder manager for the Dudgeon Offshore Wind Farm project, stressed that while she and her colleagues intended to try to continue to reach agreement with the three remaining landowners, time is now running out.

She said: 'We have used the time since we took over this project last October to understand the concerns of the landowners and negotiate agreements with them.

'The compulsory purchase order is a last resort and we will continue to negotiate with the three landowners.

'But for the Dudgeon Offshore Wind Farm to generate first power to the National Grid in 2017, installation of the onshore cables has to start in 2014.

'Our aim has always been to seek agreement on acceptable terms with all the landowners, but unfortunately such agreement has not been reached with a few.

'To ensure that we are able to meet the project's critical time line, we have now had to make this order.

'The onshore cable will be buried at least one metre underground, and the land will be re-instated to its original condition once the installation is complete.

'Our aim is to minimise disruption as far as possible to all those parties affected by this installation, and it has therefore always been important for us to seek mutual agreement with all landowners.'

In considering the compulsory purchase order, Mr Davey will need to balance the landowners' human rights again the overall public benefits of the wind farm project, which DOW claims will produce enough electricity for the needs of more than 300,000 UK homes each year and make a significant contribution towards the government's renewable energy targets.

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