Lt Dunham substation appeal could test localism agenda
Campaigners battling plans for a massive electricity substation in a Norfolk village believe the scheme could prove an 'acid test' for the government's commitment to the localism agenda.
Warwick Energy wants to build the substation on 43 acres of farmland at Little Dunham, near Swaffham, which would connect its �1.3bn Dudgeon offshore wind farm to the National Grid.
Contrary to the advice of its officers, Breckland Council rejected the plans in October after hearing villagers' fears about the impact which the 15m high buildings could have on the rural landscape.
Warwick appealed the decision, but planning inspector Christopher Frost surprised a public hearing earlier this month by saying the decision had been taken out of his hands and handed to two government ministers – energy secretary Chris Huhne and communities secretary Eric Pickles.
Members of the Little Dunham Action Group have urged those two ministers to honour the coalition's commitment to localism by blocking the plan.
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Villager Paul Gardner said: 'The local community is furious with the way the developer has avoided engaging with those affected most by their plans to industrialise open farmland, concreting over an area more than ten times the size of Trafalgar Square. By pursuing the appeal, rather than engaging in proper consultation, they have effectively handed control of the fate of our village over to ministers. This now is an acid test for the government's localism commitment.'
Paul Dennis, another member of the action group, added: 'We expect the ministers to categorically support the decision of the council's democratically-elected members and back local people who are totally opposed to the industrialisation of farmland adjacent to family homes in a quiet village. To allow the appeal will leave localism dead in the water'.
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Mid Norfolk MP George Freeman said he had put the two ministers 'on notice' that he intended to make representations before the decision, and will urge both departments to find a 'more appropriate alternative site'.
'This case raises some important questions about the process for how we balance our needs for national infrastructure with the legitimate rights of local communities,' he said. 'None of us are against offshore renewable energy. That requires infrastructure to connect to the national grid. The question is: How do we decide where it should go? In this country we have as yet no strategy for how we bring offshore energy onshore.
'I believe there is a solution based on an alternative site which would allow us to move ahead with our offshore renewables, whilst avoiding unreasonable damage to the local landscape and community.'
Mark Petterson, project director for Warwick Energy, said his company would not be contacting the ministers.
'It is up to them to make a decision,' he said. 'In broad terms, you would think the climate change minister will support us. But I do not think the DCLG (Department for Communities and Local Government) will be against us because we are within local planning guidelines.
'We already have localism in planning terms. The local authority have set a planning policy and in the judgement of their own officers we have complied with that.
'Everybody is very clear about the need to keep the lights on and that will mean some communities are going to have new neighbours which are power stations or electricity infrastructure. But just because something is needed, those schemes still have to be acceptable in a particular location, and we believe this one is.'