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Proposed EDF Power Station B at Wingland, Sutton Bridge


Sep 8 2014

Notes on South Holland District Council Planning Meeting at the Council Offices, Spalding on 27th August 2014

[Comments from the Public Gallery are in blue]

The Planning committee (on 27th August) consisted:

Councilllors Gambba-Jones (Chair), Avery (vice-chair) Alcock, Aley (for Lawton) Ashby, Brewis, Casson, Coupland, Grocock (for Johnson), Miller, Perkins, Rudkin, Seymour, Tennant, Wilkinson.

Cllrs M. Booth & N.Worth were there as Ward members & non-voting, but able to speak during debate.

Of the Committee members present only Cllrs Gambba-Jones, Brewis, Seymour, Tennant and Grocock said anything noteworthy. Booth contributed significantly.

Since its inception in 2009, Bridge Watch has been scrupulous in maintaining its neutrality. Our intention has always been to observe and comment on the proceedings of Sutton Bridge Parish Council with the dual aims of making sure that everything was done according to the rules and informing the public.

Since 2009, the District Council has seen fit to try to dump obnoxious developments on our village and it has become impossible to maintain neutrality over this particular issue. We have observed the District Council Planning Committee & its Planning Department's inability, or unwillingness, to consider all the factors involved in the decision making process in a neutral and well-considered manner.

The Sutton Bridge Parish Council, by delegating the task of following up Wingland site developments to specific parish councillors, is now making a stand against these developments. They could decide, either to take the tenor of the Planning Committee Chairman Gambba-Jones' advice and go for the de-industrialisation of Wingland, or actively support clean developments there. A possible example (in the absence of job-creating developments) might be a solar farm. The Local Plan consultations are currently being undertaken.

When King's Lynn Borough Council's Planning Committee considered the Sutton Bridge Biomass gasifier/incinerator proposal, the debate was open and properly conducted. This is to be contrasted with the way the 'debate' at Spalding took place on 27th August 2014.

This report looks at what went on when the SHDC Planning Committee considered the conditions which they had attached to the planning application for the French Company, EDF’B’—the second enlarged power station—passed with no objection on to Department of the Environment and Climate Change (DECC).

A number of factors occurred prior to the Meeting which made it very difficult for members of the public, and some parish councillors, to access vital information concerning the EDF’B’ development. This included being given wrong information concerning when it would be on the Planning Committee's Agenda for discussion.

Additionally, the application was described and ‘hidden’ as ‘Land Adjacent to Sutton Bridge Power Station’, rather than EDF’B’ (the proposed development).

What follows is an account of the meeting, in some instances, verbatim, taking from notes made on the night.

Mr R Fidler (RF) (Planning Officer) said that additional representations had been received, as follows: 217 standard letters, and 2 emails with same wording as the standard letter. He read out the covering letter from the WSBPG chairman, received on Tuesday.

Reference was made to how important it was to assess the cumulative effects of all three power stations: existing gas-fired power station, proposed EDF’B’ power station and Energy Park Sutton Bridge (EPSB) gasifier/incinerator.

RF reminded the Committee that if either or both Lincolnshire County Council or South Holland District Council were to object, then there is a mandatory requirement for a Public Inquiry. If not, there is still a discretionary element to call for a PI. If no call for PI, then all objections will be taken into account.

It was announced that two speakers were registered to speak.

Although she had been assured by email confirmation that she could speak on behalf of The Wash & Sutton Bridge Protection Group (WSBPG), ten minutes prior to the start of the meeting Nina Wells was told in no uncertain terms that she would not be allowed to speak. Apparently this was the decision of the Committee Chairman Cllr R Gambba-Jones and Mr P Jackson. What she would have said appears below.*

Jeremy Bush (EDF) spoke first. He said that the District council had made no objection at the Planning Committee Meeting in June. Since that time EDF had been working with officers to finalise the conditions to be attached to the application. He said he believed 'conditions were clear, specific and workable…’

He emphasised that EDF’B’ was an entirely separate application from the EPSB biomass application and should be judged on its own merits. He added that Highways & Environment Agency had no concerns. He said that all outstanding issues had been looked at with the Planners.

His view was that it was now up to the Environment Agency (EA) to look at the other projects and climate change effects/issues etc as they are the 'experts’. As far as he was concerned, there were no material concerns—they were all addressed in the conditions.

He reiterated that the EA were the authority to grant permit for a) water extraction from river and b) air quality considerations.

He said that the EDF’B’ would have 'no significant impact on Sutton Bridge’ and therefore there was no 'warrant’ for objection.

Later in the meeting Cllr Tennant said he wasn't impressed by EDF's assertion that SB would not suffer any effects. But he also said that conditions should pacify residents.

The conditions certainly don't pacify the residents of Sutton Bridge and there’s lots of evidence to suggest that they will suffer from emissions from combined developments.

It was notable that, at least at the start of the Meeting, Mr G-J & the Planners were quieter, measured their words, and gave the appearance, at least, of careful consideration. It didn't last though, once Mr Jackson (Chief Planning Officer) got into his stride.

* Had she been allowed to do so this is the gist of the speech that Nina Wells would have made:-

There are many reasons against this development: The original application is 9 years old and design and layout have changed substantially, not least that it is now 1800 MW instead of the original 1260. In these circumstances a new planning application should have been required.

• It would be on a greenfield site, which the Government urges should only be considered if no alternatives are available.

• The site consists of some of the richest agricultural land in the country and we need every inch in view of our increasing population.

• The proposed Fendyke Solar farm was recently rejected by you on the grounds that it would be built on agricultural land and that alternative brownfield sites were available.

• This applies far more to EDF’B’, which, unlike a solar farm, would make the land permanently unusable.

• It should therefore be built on one of the brownfield sites you claim are available.

• The building would be an eyesore that would dominate the local flat landscape for 10 miles in all directions.

• To quote your own reasons for turning down the Fendyke proposal, it would have an ‘overbearing, intrusive and dominating impact’ on the landscape, and make the area ‘an unattractive place to live’. If this applies to a solar farm which can only be seen from close up, how much more must it apply to this development?

• The site is a zone 3 flood plain. Government policy is clear that industrial developments should not be built on flood plains if alternative land is available, which,according to your judgement, is at Fendyke.

• Building on this site would also increase the risk of flooding in Sutton Bridge by removing a large area of ‘soak-away’ land, and put increased pressure on our flood defences.

• You have said alternative land is available, so use it.

EDF’B’ cannot be viewed in isolation. Its emissions will add to those from the current Power Station, and it will be inefficient. Gas-fired power stations produce a large amount of surplus heat, and EDF's own study found no potential customers within a 15km radius. The Wingland Enterprise Park has no infrastructure to support it, so it will not be commercially viable.

• Local people have voted decisively to ask the Secretary of State to hold a public enquiry. This committee has good grounds for objecting, and as our elected representatives you should be working for and not against the local community, and that includes Sutton Bridge.

But Mrs Wells was not allowed to make her presentation which might well have influenced the waverers on the Planning Committee.

A Sutton Bridge resident, Mrs Shirley Giles, (SG) deputising for Mrs Jenny Rowe, registered to speak, but who was indisposed, said:-

Before making a decision, the planning committee should take a bit of time to answer some questions.

l. How is the committee going to enforce and monitor the robust conditions that are being applied to this application? There were conditions, attached to the existing Power Station, that have not been carried out.

2. Does South Holland have the resources to do the job properly?

3. I would expect our local Ward Councillors to ask the same questions. If they won't perhaps you will?

4. If all this industry was planned for your patch, I'm sure you would insist on these questions being answered.

5. Any scheme with nearly 30 conditions should be discussed with the community BEFORE any agreement by the officers.

Why are the conditions not being discussed with the residents, who are the most affected group?

6.We already have a gas fired power station, 7 wind turbines, an application for a gasifier/incinerator and hundreds of wind turbines off shore all connecting to the Walpole grid.

Why yet another development dumped on Sutton Bridge?

7. I understand that it is a government condition that building in a flood plain should only happen when all other sites have been investigated.

8. What other sites were considered for this development which is in a Zone 3 flood risk area?

9. Where can we find the assessment of the cumulative impact of emissions for the site?

10. Should the Committee not acknowledge that although they are merely a consultee on this occasion, and are not giving consent, that they did get it wrong in relation to PREL [now called Energy Park Sutton Bridge or EPSB] and really do need to get it right this time.

Therefore, the only sensible way to make sure that all questions are answered is through a public inquiry. I now urge you, on behalf of the residents of Sutton Bridge, to request that the Secretary of State calls a Public Inquiry so that all existing and proposed developments be properly considered together.

Needless to say, none of these questions were addressed in the ensuing ‘debate’.

Cllr Booth (MB) (Sutton Bridge & Long Sutton Ward Cllr, able to speak, but without a vote) spoke next from the floor.

He said (in his role as a councillor supporting the residents) that:

His observations were also ignored.

Cllr Brewis (CB) (Ward Cllr, member of SHDC Planning Committee & SBPC): spoke about 'ambient' air quality, name-dropped about meeting a learned Professor in his back garden, who explained what ‘ambient’ meant, joked about wanting to know if/when they hit crown jewels when piling. He added that there was a need for ‘extractment’ equipment in chimneys for dealing with sulphur emission. He said: ‘I voted in favour last time round,’ but added ‘the application has a long way to go...’ and then he wandered off the point.

Mr Gambba Jones (G-J) said: ‘We need to 'bottom out' any questions the council has, otherwise we'll be here all night.’

What does this mean? 'Bottoming out’ objections? Ignore them?

Paul Jackson (PJ) (Chief Planning Officer SHDC) intervened: ‘DECC (Department of Energy & Climate Change) will decide the wording of the conditions if they are not clear. We could spend a lot of time on this.’

G-J said: We have a duty to forensically look at things so our conscience is clear and we can be said to have done our best, but we can’t impose too many conditions because we want this thing to go through ‘

When asked whether objections would be forwarded to DECC, G-J looked at RF and PJ for advice:

PJ: ‘They will be forwarded to DECC.’

C Brewis (CB) referred again to extraction of sulphur from chimneys. PJ said it was up to the EA (Environment Agency) to sort out sulphur emissions.

How can the Council make any decisions when they are so ignorant of the possibilities?

PJ then said: ‘We have to be clear that what we are doing now is passing a resolution, not making a decision. Any conditions that need refining, will be refined elsewhere. Any grounds for objection should be related to Planning and if the Council was minded to go for a Public Inquiry, then it would have to define the planning grounds specifically, very specifically. It was not enough to say we don't want it.’

G-J If we are going to object, then we will find ourselves going against the experts.  He said the officers are going to go back to EDF and refine the conditions further.

Smokescreen: ‘Experts’ have by necessity a parochial, partial view, and do not have an overview. This is deliberate Government policy.

There were various suggestions about changes to conditions, but nothing was definitely agreed. It was not at all clear how the conditions were to be refined. This underlines bad management by the Chairman. He was never impartial, as a chairman should be, never standing aside, as a chairman should, to express his own opinion. And at the end he was in a hurry to get things over with as quickly as possible.

Cllr Brewis's next incomprehensible observation was something to do with baseline monitoring of activities.

Maybe Cllr Brewis would like to explain this via Bridgewatch?

PJ: ‘We can't impose refinements to conditions that would delay the implementation of the scheme. It is unreasonable to suggest too many changes.’

One might think that he was talking about changes to a cricket pitch rather than something that will influence and affect the lives of thousands of people.

He reiterated ‘Case Law’: a decision is not a decision until it is down on paper. This is not a decision, but a resolution.’

‘If SHDC object, then objections have to be clear: they have to based on planning considerations, but the resolution is in the gift of the committee.’

Knowing full well that the majority of the Committee had already made up its mind.

Cllr Alcock said: ‘the residents want robust, enforceable conditions that would cope with unforeseen circumstances.’

G-J said that if SHDC objected 'they would forfeit their right to have any control over the conditions. This would pass to an 'independent arbiter'.

Cllr Grocock:’ Whatever DECC or SHDC decided, there's been a lot in the papers about it and he was sure that the residents of Sutton Bridge would put it under a microscope.’

An unworthy cynical comment.

PJ: ‘We’ve only got one enforcement officer and a vacancy for a second. If members don’t have confidence in the conditions as they are, we need more staff or we need to do what happened with the Spalding Power station, where S106 money was allocated to the company to employ staff to do the monitoring. ‘

What he seems to be saying, is in effect, that we haven’t got enough staff to look at the proposal in great detail so we’ll just have to let it go through without further examination. There is a question about whether S106 money can be used for helping a developer to finance monitoring of conditions and in any case, how will we know that EDF will use the money for this purpose? Their monitoring will no doubt reach the conclusions they require.

G-J: ‘We have to deal with 1200 applications every year and we rely on the good graces of developers. It’s the national way of doing things and we rely on the public telling us.’

N.B. It is interesting to note that, in relation to the current work on Terrington Marsh in connection with the Race Bank Wind Farm, Natural England have engaged an independent monitoring company to be on site during the whole of the work that is carried out by the developers on the  marsh and the sea bed etc.

Does not the Chairman’s constant intervention amount to predetermination? Especially when he said:

G-J: ‘So we can’t put too much into the conditions because we want it to happen.’

‘We haven’t got a policy to get the developer to monitor the conditions. It’s Government policy not to place added costs on the developer.’

PJ: (repeated) that they could use S106 money to get the developer to do the monitoring.

Cllr Wilkinson: said he was nervous about the number of conditions and how to monitor them because ’people’ [residents of Sutton Bridge] can’t, for instance, monitor pollution.

Except by how much they are coughing and choking.

PJ: ‘The developer will monitor it via EA permit and those covered by other regulatory bodies. Therefore it is unreasonable to go into any more detail.’

Cllr Seymour: (On G-J’s cue)’ I have sympathy with Sutton Bridge. I feel we are doing the right thing. I MOVE that we follow the officer’s motion. ‘

G-J said: ‘we have a balance at this point.’  

What precisely did he mean? More cues?

G-J said to CB: ‘Come on Cllr Brewis, show your card like everyone else.’

He didn’t wave his card above his head height.

The committee voted 6/7 in favour of the Motion.

There is some confusion here. There were 15 committee members present and the total votes cast amounted to 13. So who didn’t vote? Abstentions weren’t asked for?

 G-J voted with the seven in favour,

But when he realised it was nearly a tie, he waved his card in jubilation because he knew that he had cast the deciding vote.

G-J (to the committee members): ‘You can be reassured that the points raised will be forwarded. That’s all we can do. We have to recognise that Government policy is for the greater good. We have to recognise that local concerns have to be overruled for the benefit of the whole country.’

All those councilors and officers who expressed ‘sympathy’ for the residents of Sutton Bridge were simply mouthing words. They have NO sympathy with the residents whatsoever. Some of the things that were said appeared to be cavalier and cynical.

At no stage during the ‘debate’ were any of the substantive issues alluded to.  None of the pertinent questions put by Mrs Giles were addressed.
It appears that none of the members of the Planning Committee are up to dealing with the essential technical elements of the application.

As the researchers of WSBPG have found, you need to have dogged and committed determination to pursue all the variables of applications of this kind.

Compare this account with that posted on SHDC’s website which states that

‘Members debated the matter and fully explored the details of the application in light of prevailing policies and guidance; which included taking into account the views expressed by both the applicants and public speakers.’

Outrageous!


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