Monday, 18 June 2018

High Court to decide future of £1.5m river power plant

PLANS to build a hydro-electric power plant on the River Thames at Goring have been challenged at the High Court.

Goring Parish Council, which opposes the scheme, contested the decision to grant planning permission at a judicial review hearing on Tuesday last week.

If the judge accepts the council’s argument that South Oxfordshire District Council, the planning authority, failed to follow the correct procedure, planning permission will be withdrawn.

The application by the Goring and Streatley Sustainability Group will then have to be reassessed but it could still be approved.

The group wants to build three 12ft-wide Archimedes screws with a turbine and generator to the north-west of Goring Lock island. It says the £1.5million plant, which has been on the drawing board since 2005, could generate 850 megawatt-hours of electricity a year, enough to power about 300 homes.

This would worth about £100,000 and would be sold to the National Grid under the Government’s feed-in tariff scheme with a share of proceeds being used to benefit the community.

The Environment Agency initially objected to the plans, saying the group’s assessment of the flood risk wasn’t thorough enough, but changed its mind after more work was carried out.

Opponents, who include the parish council, the Angling Trust and a residents’ protest group, say the plant would be unsightly and would damage ecosystems by reducing oxygen levels in the water.

They are also concerned that it could cause noise disturbance to neighbours. The sustainability group says the noise could be mitigated.

The district council says schemes promoting sustainability should be welcomed and the plant would not harm the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and would cause “less than substantial harm” to the village’s building conservation area.

But the parish council argues that the district should have insisted on an independent landscape impact assessment being carried out and that its conclusion on the likely harm is illogical because the impact on the AONB and the conservation area would be the same. The district council argues that the scheme only counts as “minor” under planning law and that the environmental benefits outweigh any impact on its surroundings.

Parish councillor Bryan Urbick, who attended the hearing, said: “I think the hearing went well. We put across our arguments in a straightforward manner.

“If we are successful, I hope the decision will be taken properly the second time around.”

The High Court is expected to announce a decision by the end of the year or in early 2017.

The parish council’s costs will be limited to £10,000 if it loses and it has already received £6,000 collected by residents.

The district council and sustainability group’s costs will be jointly limited to £35,000.

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