Saturday, 18 September 2021

Weir power plant approved as High Court challenge fails

A BID to block plans for a £1.5million hydro-electric power plant at Goring weir has failed.

A High Court judge has ruled that South Oxfordshire District Council was right to grant the scheme planning permission.

Goring Parish Council had challenged the council’s decision, arguing that it had not properly considered the effects on the surrounding landscape and listed buildings and should have sought opinion on whether an independent assessment was needed.

Mr Justice Ross Cranston agreed that the authority had made minor procedural errors but said it would have arrived at the same conclusion if it had done everything correctly.

The Goring and Streatley Sustainability Group wants to build three 12ft-wide Archimedes screws near Goring bridge with a turbine and generator to the north-west of Goring lock island.

It says the plant could generate 850 megawatt-hours of electricity a year, enough to power about 300 homes. This would be sold to the National Grid with a share of the proceeds benefiting the community. When the group submitted its planning application in August last year the parish council objected, saying there was a flood risk and the scheme would harm fish by reducing oxygen levels in their breeding grounds. It also claimed the plant could be a noise nuisance.

However, the district council said schemes generating sustainable energy were to be welcomed and the benefits outweighed any harm.

It said the plant would not harm the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and only cause “less than substantial harm” to the village’s building conservation area.

The parish council argued in court that this was illogical as the impact on both would be the same.

It said the district council’s conclusion was based on “flimsy” analysis of a report prepared by the sustainablity group’s consultants in 2009. Giving his judgement, Mr Justice Cranston said there was no suggestion that the council had wrongly applied planning policies and the Chilterns Conservation Board had made no submissions on the proposal when invited.

He accepted the council had failed to give “considerable importance and weight” to the impact on the conservation area and should have carried out an appraisal of the buildings within it.

However, he said: “In my view, it is highly likely that the outcome would not have been substantially different if the council had applied the correct test. If there was any harm to heritage assets, the response of the conservation officer was that it was, at most, minor harm.

“There is simply no prospect that this issue would make any difference to the overall planning balance.”

The judge said that had the council sought opinion, it was unlikely that an independent landscape impact assessment would have been needed, although the council accepted it should have done this.

Mr Justice Cranston also accepted that the noise from the plant would be more “mechanical” than the sound of running water but said the applicants had shown it would be inaudible to neighbours.

He said: “It is not in the public interest for a decision to be quashed and taken again where there is no substantial prejudice to the claimant.”

The judge said he would not award the district council its costs as  the parish council’s barrister Charles Streeten had “expertly exposed” flaws in its planning decision.

The parish council is to consider an appeal. Councillor Bryan Urbick said: “It’s disappointing that the judge didn’t quash the verdict but it has at least shown that the district council is flawed in its handling of the application. We’re heartened in that sense as it vindicates our frustration at how it was handled.”

Neither the district council nor the sustainability group responded to requests for comment.

The sustainability group first submitted a planning application in 2012 but withdrew this after the Environment Agency objected, saying more research was needed. The group then carried out the necessary work

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