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03 July 2020

867: One and a half windfarm consents

Today’s entry reports on the Norfolk Vanguard and Hornsea Three offshore windfarm projects.

1 July was the latest deadline for two offshore windfarm projects both in the southern North Sea: Norfolk Vanguard promoted by the UK arm of Swedish company Vattenfall and Hornsea Three promoted by the UK arm of Danish company Ørsted.

The windfarm sites are quite far apart but the cable routes both come ashore in Norfolk and cross west of the town of Aylsham. The decision letters each mention the other project over 20 times.

Both examining authorities recommended the projects be refused, but the Secretary of State approved the Norfolk Vanguard project and issued a ‘minded to approve’ letter for the Hornsea Three project, giving it a new decision deadline of 31 December.

Whereas the issue that resulted in the Thanet extension to be refused last month was navigation, the issue for both of these projects was habitats, the highest level of international natural protection.

Vanguard gets the tabular treatment now, Hornsea will have to wait until the full decision.

  • Project: an 1800MW wind farm off the Norfolk coast;
  • Promoter: Vattenfall;
  • Application made: 26 June 2018;
  • Four inspectors, Karen Ridge (her first), Gavin Jones (his third), Graham Kean (his first), and then Caroline Jones was added just before the preliminary meeting;
  • 267 relevant representations, above average;
  • 31 written representations, average;
  • 572 questions in the first round, high;
  • One compulsory acquisition hearing, seven issue specific hearings and three open floor hearings – high;
  • Three Local Impact Reports, from Norfolk, Broadland and Breckland;
  • Examination exactly six months, recommendation exactly three months, decision nearly ten months, ie nearly seven months late;
  • 736 days from application to decision, just over two years, one of the longest (one day shorter than Silvertown, the longest that got consent); and
  • 1,545 documents on the Planning Inspectorate web page on the date of the decision (not including the relevant representations), very high.

As usual there are some notes from the decision letter.

Unusual text in the very first paragraph, it mentions the application being ‘submitted on 8 June 2018 and received in full on 26 June 2018’. Wonder what happened there.

The Examining Authority concluded that were it not for habitats issues it would have recommended approval, but the effects on two Special Protection Areas (ie bird habitats) tipped the balance against recommending approval.

The decision letter (and the Hornsea minded to letter) gives warning to future applicants that the Secretary of State won’t necessarily deal with habitats issues during the decision stage, and recommends that they provide information during the examination to allow an appropriate assessment to take place even if they themselves conclude there will not be an adverse effect on integrity – it won’t be held against them if they do that.

There was an issue about maintenance planting and whether it should be for 10 years or five years, but given that land access powers only lasted for five years, it was decided to keep it at five years to match.

The cumulative visual (onshore) impact with the Hornsea Three project was considered, but the cumulative impact for the forthcoming Norfolk Boreas project was not, concluding that was a matter for that project to deal with. I do agree with that principle, that it is for a later project to deal with cumulative impacts with an earlier one, not the other way round. On traffic, though, a requirement has been added that the Vanguard traffic plan should be varied from the outline version if it conflicts with the Boreas one. I also note that two of the Vanguard works are to accommodate Boreas cable ducts, something contemplated in associated development guidance.

Two ships were scheduled as ancient monuments after the examination, but the Secretary of State considered that the existing mitigation measures in the DCO would cope with that. A Danish air force plane that crashed in 1996 that might be disturbed was a cause for local concern but no changes were made.

On habitats, unlike with the Hornsea Three project, the Secretary of State concluded there would be no adverse effect on integrity of the 15 potentially affected Natura 2000 sites, having received further evidence in relation to the two sites that the inspectors thought would have an adverse effect (actually provided by the Hornsea Three project).

There was participation from a Dutch fishing body and a French biodiversity agency.

An interesting DCO amendment was to remove the ability for Vattenfall to transfer the benefit of the order within its own group without the Secretary of State’s consent.

The discussion of the two windfarm projects, and the forthcoming East Anglia One North and Two projects, does suggest to me that in reviewing the Planning Act 2008 it might be a good idea to allow simultaneous and related applications to be considered jointly, like town and country planning applications can.

In procedural news, the revised Aquind Rule 6 letter has been published, with a two-day preliminary meeting scheduled for 18 August and 8 September, three weeks apart. That is the final piece of the jigsaw allowing projects to proceed from start to finish during these covid-restricted times.

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