928: Boreas windfarm approved against inspectors’ advice
Today’s entry reports on the latest approval of a Development Consent Order.
On the revised deadline of 10 December 2021, the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy granted development consent for the Norfolk Boreas wind farm. It embodies the government’s drive for offshore wind, so much so that the Prime Minister suggested changing his name to Boreas Johnson.
Here are the facts and figures:
- project: an 1800MW wind farm off the coast of Norfolk, the sister of the Vanguard project that was quashed in the High Court and is being redetermined;
- promoter: Vattenfall;
- four inspectors: Frances Fernandes, Annie Coombs, Peter Braithwaite and Menaka Sahai;
- 113 relevant representations – average;
- 18 written representations – fairly low;
- 540 questions in the first round – high;
- six specific issue hearings, three open floor hearings and one compulsory acquisition hearing – average;
- 913 days from application to decision (the examination being extended by five months and the decision being eight months late); and
- 1930 documents on the Planning Inspectorate web page on the date of the decision (not including the relevant representations) – very high.
The inspectors recommended that the application be refused. This was based on a conclusion of significant adverse effects on sandbank recovery, reef features and seabed topography, and collision risks for five species of bird. Construction effects and visual impacts were of medium adverse effect. They considered that compensatory measures for the habitats’ impacts were not sufficiently developed at the time.
The Secretary of State, however, approved the application. He agreed that the construction effects were medium adverse. Having added further requirements on visual impact, he considered that the visual impacts were substantially adverse (ie worse than the inspectors).
He agreed that the ecological impacts were substantial. In the Habitats Regulations Assessment part of the decision letter, the Secretary of State reduced the adverse impacts to those on the lesser black-backed gull, the kittiwake (the same as Hornsea 3) and reefs and sandbanks.
He decided no alternative solutions existed (only considering doing nothing and other windfarms as alternatives). He then considered that imperative reasons of overriding public interest (IROPI) applied and that compensation should be provided. He rejected extending the habitats as a strategy, but accepted that land could be leased at Lowestoft to compensate for effects on kittiwake and at the Alde-Ore Estuary to compensate for effects on the LBBG, although the compensation must be in place for four breeding seasons (is that years?) before any turbines can operate. On the seabed issues cable installation must be in accordance with an approved implementation plan involving the removal of 8.3 hectares of marine debris (despite the applicant’s protestations that the cable might not cause any damage).
The conclusion that compensation could be provided allowed the Secretary of State to conclude the benefits outweighed the impacts, despite a worse conclusion on landscape and visual impacts, and he granted the DCO.
A whole schedule has been added to the DCO, to cover this compensation (schedule 19).
There are some careful paragraphs in the decision letter about how the cumulative impacts of the Norfolk Vanguard and Boreas projects were considered, no doubt because the former was quashed for reasons of not properly assessing cumulative impacts (saying that this application could do that, even though the relevant material had been provided).
The schedules of the DCO have been drafted according to two alternative scenarios, whether Vanguard has carried out enabling works or not, each one has a ‘scenario one’ and ‘scenario two’ version. I haven’t seen alternatives at such a scale before.
The new draft National Policy Statements are not considered; the decision is taken under the old EN-1, EN-3 and EN-5.
Meanwhile the M25 Junction 28 DCO decision, due on 16 December 2021, has been delayed for five months, and the A1 Morpeth to Ellingham DCO decision, due on 5 January 2022 has also been delayed for five months. Both are to ‘allow for further consideration of environmental matters’, the usual blanket phrase being employed these days, according to the written statement, announcing the delays.
Don’t forget – the Christmas champagne competition is still running, details in the previous blog entry!