Sharma backs 158-turbine wind farm off Norfolk coast against recommendation to refuse

Energy secretary Alok Sharma has approved plans for a 1.8 gigawatt wind farm off the Norfolk coast, despite inspectors recommending that the project should be refused due to the potential impact on protected habitats.

Wind turbines off the coast of Cumbria. Image: Flickr / TEIA
Wind turbines off the coast of Cumbria. Image: Flickr / TEIA

Plans for the 1.8 gigawatt Norfolk Vanguard offshore wind farm, comprising up to 200 wind turbines, were submitted by energy company Vattenfall in June 2018. An examination took place between December that year and June 2019.

The number of turbines proposed has since been reduced to 158.

Four examining inspectors recommended the plans should not be approved, citing concerns about the potential impact on areas and species protected by the EU Habitats Directive.

However, Sharma said he had consulted a range of parties about the issue and had concluded there would be no adverse impact on the Flamborough and Filey Coast Special Protection Area and the Alde-Ore Estuary Special Protection Area. 

The energy secretary said the inspectors had concluded that, habitats-related issues aside, the negative impacts of the proposed wind farm would be outweighed by the “substantial benefits” of “a very large, low carbon, infrastructure project”.

That conclusion, together with “strong endorsement” of offshore wind projects in the National Policy Statements for energy and renewable energy infrastructure, meant development consent should be granted, Sharma said.

Meanwhile, the energy secretary said he was minded to grant consent to plans for the 2.4 gigawatt Hornsea Three offshore wind farm, comprising up to 300 wind turbines.

An application for the scheme was submitted by Orsted Hornsea Project Three (UK) in May 2018. An examination took place between October 2018 and April 2019.

Sharma said he was convinced there would be no adverse effect on several nearby Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) and Marine Conservation Zones. However, he said he could not rule out an adverse effect on kittiwake birds in the Flamborough and Filey Coast SAC. 

The energy secretary has asked the applicant to provide a detailed compensation plan, outlining measures to offset the impact on the birds, by the end of September.

Sharma said further consultation will then take place on the proposed compensation measures.

Subsequently, a new deadline for a final decision on the development consent order application has been set for 31 December 2020. 

Last month, Sharma refused consent for plans to extend a wind farm in the Thames Estuary due to concerns that it would interfere with shipping.

In April, the energy secretary approved plans for a waste-burning power station on the River Thames in south-east London, dismissing opposition from the Greater London Authority.

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