Swale Borough Councillors ignored the recommendation of their own planning officers when last month they voted to reject the substation at Graveney, near Faversham. The vote was a setback for the 1000 MW London Array wind farm in the outer Thames Estuary. The £1.5 billion project is being developed by Shell, E.ON UK and CORE, an Anglo-Danish joint venture of Denmark's Energi E2 and Farm Energy -- the project's originator. Up to 271 turbines are planned to be built on and around two sandbanks over 20 kilometres from the Kent and Essex coasts.
Swale's planning committee's justification for its refusal was that alternative sites for the substation had not been fully explored. They were also concerned about its effect on the local community, the impact on the countryside and the increased traffic. Peter Crone from Farm Energy points out that alternatives to Graveney were ruled out for technical and cost reasons. He adds that the planning officers had accepted the consortium's argument that there were no suitable alternatives to Graveney. Moreover, the consortium had allowed the council an extra eight months to consider the application in order to work through the issues rather than appeal against non-determination. "The members simply disregarded that completely, which will count badly against them on appeal," he says.
Crone says that opposition to the substation was "not extensive." Indeed, 18 letters of support were received with just two from residents objecting to the plans. Swale's decision also angered interests in Kent who see the applications for large offshore wind farms in the Thames estuary at London Array, Thanet offshore and Greater Gabbard as an opportunity for regeneration of north-east Kent.
Kent County Council (KCC), Thanet District Council and South East England Development Agency believe it could revitalise the port of Ramsgate and establish it as the base for a whole new industry. KCC's Neil Hilkene says that construction could be serviced from Ramsgate rather than elsewhere in Europe, as could future maintenance operations.
"There is also potential to get some of the supply chain investment into Kent in manufacturing components," he says. Hilkene says that Swale's decision was a blow. He adds that KCC will be likely to support the developers if they appeal. "We would like to be at the inquiry to set out our position. We support the scheme and we will be telling the planning inspector just that."
The London Array consortium has not yet formally announced its decision to appeal. But options are limited to either appealing the decision or reapplying for consent. He stresses that all members of the group remain committed to the project, which applied for building consent in June 2005.