Friday, 12 August 2022

Appeal court rejects final bid to scupper hydro plant

A FINAL bid to prevent the construction of a hydro-electric power plant at Goring weir has failed.

The Court of Appeal has refused a request by Goring Parish Council for it to review a decision by the High Court not to stop the scheme going ahead.

The Goring and Streatley Sustainability Group plans to build three 12ft wide Archimedes screws with a turbine and generator to the north-west of Goring Lock island, a short distance upstream from the village bridge.

It says the £1.5million plant could generate 850 megawatt-hours of electricity a year, enough to power about 300 homes.

This would be 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.

Opponents said it would spoil views of the Chilterns and North Wessex Downs Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, cause noise disturbance and harm habitats by slowing the river flow and reducing oxygen levels.

There were also concerns that it could become an eyesore if it failed financially and the group didn’t have the money to dismantle it.

In 2015 South Oxfordshire District Council granted planning permission, saying it was a “minor” application and the benefits of sustainable energy outweighed the impact on its surroundings.

It accepted there would be “less than substantial harm” to Goring’s building conservation area but argued there would be none to either AONB.

The parish council sought a judicial review at the High Court, arguing that the district council’s stance was inconsistent as the impact on the AONBs and conservation areas would be the same and that it should have ordered a full landscape impact assessment.

Mr Justice Ross Cranston agreed the council hadn’t followed correct procedure but said this had no bearing on the final outcome.

In 2016 the parish council sought permission to appeal this decision but was denied by High Court judge Lady Justice Anne Rafferty, who said Mr Justice Cranston’s conclusion was “inevitable and unimpugnable”.

Earlier this year, the council went to the Appeal Court to asked for the case to be re-opened “to avoid real injustice”.

It argued that Lady Justice Rafferty’s ruling was based on “fundamental legal errors” which would “undermine the integrity of, and confidence in, the English legal system”.

Charles Streeten, for the council, said she hadn’t given enough weight to the authority’s duty to protect conservation areas and this was a “substantive error of law”.

A panel of three judges including Sir Terence Etherton, the Master of the Rolls, said the original judgement was correct and so was Lady Justice Rafferty in upholding it.

They said: “The court must not cast itself in the role of the planning decision-maker.

“[But] if it is to consider whether a particular outcome was ‘highly likely’ not to have been substantially different if the conduct complained about had not occurred, it must undertake an objective assessment of what the result would have been had the decision-maker not erred.

“It is clear that Lady Justice Rafferty was not persuaded there was a real prospect of establishing that Mr Justice Cranston had trespassed into the forbidden territory of planning judgement.

“The application to re-open the appeal falls well short of meeting the requirements. The parish council has suffered no ‘real injustice’ and the application is therefore dismissed.”

Parish councillor Bryan Urbick, who led the campaign against the weir, said: “Of course we’re disappointed as it would have been nice to get the case
re-opened but the bar is very high and we clearly didn’t meet the threshold, which was always a risk.

“On a positive note, I do feel the court fully grappled with the isues at stake but it doesn’t change the fact that the district council broke the law yet the planning permission wasn’t quashed.”

“We are now keen to work with the sustainability group and have contacted them to establish their next steps but haven’t yet heard back.”

The Environment Agency supports the proposal.

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