Tuesday, 24 November 2020

Council threatens to take legal action over power plant

A LEGAL row is brewing over plans to build a hydro-electric power plant near Goring lock.

A LEGAL row is brewing over plans to build a hydro-electric power plant near Goring lock.

The proposal, put forward by the village’s sustainability group, was granted planning permission last month but the parish council says it should have been refused.

It believes South Oxfordshire District Council assessed the scheme incorrectly and is considering applying to the High Court for a judicial review.

At an emergency meeting held on Saturday, councillors voted unanimously to warn the planning authority of their intentions and offer one last chance for it to reverse the decision.

This would not mean the plans were rejected but that the district council planning committee would have to reconsider.

However, the district council insists the proper procedures were followed and is refusing to back down.

The sustainability group plans to build three Archimedes screws, each about 3.5m wide, across a stretch of water just north of Goring bridge. These would be to the west of Goring lock island along with a turbine and generator while a control room would be built next to the former lock-keeper’s cottage.

It is claimed that the scheme could produce 850 megawatt-hours of electricity a year, enough to power almost 300 homes. This would be sold to the National Grid under the Government’s feed-in tariff scheme and the proceeds put towards “green” projects in the area.

Dozens of villagers and the parish council objected, saying it would be inappropriate development in a conservation area and the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. They also said it posed a flood risk and would cause noise disturance.

The district council’s planning officers disagreed, saying the environmental benefits outweighed the impact on views and the flood risk was “insignificant” as the Environment Agency had not raised concerns.

They said it was a “minor” application under national planning guidelines so the effect on the scenery couldn’t be given much weight. However, the parish council says the application will have an impact on the river, not just the land immediately around it, so should be classed as “major” and wants an independent landscape visual assessment to be carried out.

It has consulted a planning solicitor who described the officers’ report as “sorely lacking”.

At Saturday’s meeting, the council agreed to spend up to £2,500 on a solicitor’s letter, which the district council will have two weeks to reply to before members meet again.

Chairman Kevin Bulmer said: “This is not just about whether or not we like the weir. There’s a bigger and more important question as to whether the district council is taking the right decisions where AONBs and conservation areas are concerned, of which we in Goring have many.

“One member of the planning committee said ‘you can’t just preserve the village in aspic’, which is ironic as that’s exactly why the legislation exists. That comment suggested we were motivated by ‘Nimbyism’, which was unfair. They were asking lots of questions about the energy it would generate but nothing about the issues they should have taken into consideration and given due weight. Nor did the officers give those matters due weight in their reports.”

A district council spokeswoman said the scheme couldn’t be considered “major” under the guidelines and the applicant had addressed the visual impact in an environmental report, which was sufficient.

She said the Chilterns Conservation Board hadn’t commented and revisions had been made to satisfy the council’s own conservation officers’ concerns.

She said: “The proposal extends existing industrial features in the river and is not greenfield development in the AONB.

“The application was given full consideration at the planning committee meeting. Parties spoke against and in favour and members had the opportunity to ask questions.”

Lisa Ashford, who chairs the sustainability group, said: “It’s disappointing that the parish council feels its views weren’t properly considered.

“There was a long planning process, which should have given everyone plenty of time to put forward their thoughts.”

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