Sharma blocks Thames Estuary wind farm extension over shipping risks

Business secretary Alok Sharma has refused consent for plans to extend a wind farm in the Thames Estuary due to concerns that it would interfere with shipping.

Business secretary Alok Sharma
Business secretary Alok Sharma

The secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy (BEIS) has accepted his inspectors' recommendation that energy firm Vattenfall's application for a development consent order to extend its Thanet wind farm should be turned down.

The firm had applied for permission for up to 34 additional turbines with a total generating capacity of 340 MW next to the mouth of the Thames Estuary off the north Kent coast.

The application also included an offshore substation.

The panel of three Planning Inspectorate inspectors ruled that the proposed extension is "relatively small scale" compared to other wind farm schemes coming forward through the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project process.

And they noted there is "no immediate sign" that the UK is becoming short of "physically and economically feasible" locations to develop offshore wind generating stations.

However, they concluded that the "adverse impact" of failing to address navigational safety in and access to the Thames estuary to "as low as reasonably practicable" should be given "greater weight".

Their report added: "Navigational safety and operational efficiency in the Thames estuary should be preferred over development which could constrain that safety, accessibility and resilience."

A letter sent to the firm on behalf of Sharma accepted the inspectors' conclusion that the benefits of "significant" additional renewable energy generation did not outweigh the negative impacts resulting from the construction and operation of the proposed development.

Responding to Sharma's decision, RenewableUK's chief executive Hugh McNeal said: "The UK urgently needs new generating capacity to replace old power stations which are going offline and to reach net zero emissions. The government has set a target of quadrupling offshore wind capacity to 40GW by 2030 and if that's to be achieved we need new projects to progress.

"Offshore wind is regenerating coastal communities by providing billions of pounds of new investment and boosting employment, so it's unfortunate that Kent won't be able to benefit from those opportunities as a result of this decision".

Andrea Leadsom, Alok Sharma's predecessor as BEIS secretary of state, delayed the decision on Vattenfall's plans last November in order to collect more information about the risks of collisions with shipping.

BEIS also this week announced delays to decisions on a further two offshore wind farms.

The department had been due to announce by June 1 its decisions on applications for development consent orders for two other offshore windfarms – the 2.4GW Hornsea Three project and the 1.8GW Norfolk Vanguard.

A new deadline for both decisions of July 1 has been set.

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