Saturday, 20 October 2018

Councils’ fight over weir cost taxpayers £40,000

AN unsuccessful bid to block plans for a hydro-electric power plant on the River Thames at Goring cost taxpayers more than £40,000.

Goring Parish Council spent £36,645 trying to overturn South Oxfordshire District Council’s decision to allow the £1.5million scheme by Goring and Streatley Sustainability Group.

It received £11,500 in donations from the Stop Goring Hydro pressure group and others while the remaining £25,145 for its legal costs and those of the district council came from its own coffers.

The district council also spent £25,000 fighting the parish council’s High Court challenge and two subsequent appeals which also failed but is only entitled to claim up to £10,000. It actually claimed only £6,700 following negotiations.

The figures were revealed in response to a query by Jim Emerson, of Millers Close, Goring, at the parish council’s annual meeting.

Mr Emerson said he thought the parish council had wasted money by making repeated attempts to stop the development. He said: “It was fair enough to give it a go but to spend that much seems crazy... they were throwing good money after bad.

“I’m not interested in whether or not we have a weir — that’s neither here nor there. What’s done is done but I do think they’ve spent too much. From the final court judgement it looks obvious they didn’t have a chance of succeeding. They may have been advised otherwise but I don’t know how sound that advice was.”

Bill Jackson, of Gatehampton Road, Goring, said: “The appeal was a waste of money from the very beginning and it’s mind-boggling that they went up against their own local authority.”

He was involved with the scheme but cut his ties shortly before the planning application was submitted after the Government reduced the feed-in tariff rate which he said made it unviable. Mr Jackson said: “With the changes to the tariff, there would never have been some eccentric benefactor to stump up the money for such a white elephant.

“Given the very low chance of it going ahead, [the parish council] has paid a heavy price just to make a point of principle.”

The parish council says it can’t comment until after its weir committee has met in a few weeks’ time when a report will be produced for discussion.

But member Bryan Urbick said the council had received dozens of letters of support for its action and the money was spent over a period of more than two years.

He said: “People are entitled to their opinions but I believe that when people read the report they will see that our decisions were logical for the time they were made.”

The sustainability group intends to build three 12ft-wide Archimedes screws with a turbine and generator to the north of Goring bridge, which it says could power about 300 homes for a year. The power generated will be sold back to the National Grid under the Government’s feed-in tariff scheme and the proceeds spent on environmentally-friendly projects in the area.

Opponents claim it will spoil views of the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and reduce oxygen levels in areas where fish breed and could also generate noise.

The parish council sought a judicial review of the district council’s decision last year, saying it should have formally appraised the village conservation area before concluding the scheme wouldn’t affect it.

A judge agreed the planning authority had failed in this respect but argued it wouldn’t have affected the outcome.

The parish council unsuccessfully sought permission to appeal, arguing the judge should have quashed the approval if there was a flaw in the process. It then turned to the Appeal Court which also refused another hearing.

A district council spokesman said: “We are pleased that legal proceedings have now ended and that the hydro scheme can go ahead.”

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