Eye gas power station approval was for ‘good of the nation’

Concept drawing of the power station at Eye Airfield. Credit: Progress Power ANL-150723-162507001
Concept drawing of the power station at Eye Airfield. Credit: Progress Power ANL-150723-162507001
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Politicians, councillors and community groups all voiced opposition to plans for a £200 million power station for Eye, but ultimately they were unable to stop its approval.

Developer Progress Power said up to 150 jobs would be created for the construction period, as well as 15 permanent skilled jobs.

Eye power station graphic ANL-150730-152534001

Eye power station graphic ANL-150730-152534001

The equivalent of 400,000 homes could be powered by the electricity the station could generate.

It will operate as a ‘peaking plant’, providing back-up to intermittent renewable electricity generation, making it the first of its kind to be permitted in England.

In the final decision last Thursday, the report claimed there was a “compelling case” to accept the application, citing “the national need for the proposed development”, and that the “potential adverse local impacts of the development do not outweigh the benefits of the scheme”.

The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Amber Rudd, granted permission for the development with a gas insulated substation on agricultural land in Yaxley, although the developer signalled their intention that they would prefer an air insulated substation.

Eye power station graphic ANL-150730-152544001

Eye power station graphic ANL-150730-152544001

Underground cables will connect the facility to the national grid, and the developers claim the substation will be ‘in-keeping’ with the local surroundings.

Chris McKerrow, project director at Progress Power said: “We are delighted to have secured the Government’s approval for the project. The project helps to meet the Government’s energy policy objectives of security of supply and affordability and will support the country’s transition to a low-carbon economy.

“The local community will benefit from the project via the significant commercial investment that will be forthcoming, the skilled jobs being created, our Community Benefit Fund as well as the Section 106 agreement with the local councils. We are confident that our project will be a catalyst for realising Mid Suffolk District Council’s long-term vision for Eye Airfield.

“We intend to work closely with Mid Suffolk District Council and Suffolk County Council to ensure that our project is developed sensitively, respecting the views of local people and carefully managing the project’s impact on the local environment.”

Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Amber Rudd, made the final decision on the plans.

Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Amber Rudd, made the final decision on the plans.

Construction is due to start in 2017, with the aim of having the station operational in 2019.

The Community Benefit Fund could be worth £300,000, alongside Section 106 agreement - a legally-binding contract to fund infrastructure.

Due to the size of the project, the final decision was taken by Ms Rudd. The Planning Inspectorate had offered a recommendation to approve the plans.

In April 2014, MP for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich Dr Dan Poulter, and then MP for Bury St Edmunds David Ruffley wrote to the developers, saying they were “extremely concerned”, in particular about the location and size of the sub station.

Dr Poulter wrote again, this time to the Planning Inspectorate in January, urging the application to be thrown out.

The Eye Airfield Parishes Working Group (EAPWG) was created in the wake of the proposal, on behalf of the residents of its seven member parishes, to mount a determined challenge against the proposed development.

David Burn, a spokesman for the group and a member of Yaxley Parish Council, expressed his disappointment at the decision, but said without their challenge, a “much larger” and “uglier” substation would have been consented.

“We understand that the Secretary of State’s decision to overrule National Grid on the electrical connection method is unprecedented and we have been congratulated by Suffolk County Council officers for achieving a significant result for local democracy,” he said. “Progress Power now knows we are a force to be reckoned with. We will shortly meet to discuss the options before deciding on our next move.

“Between now and the projected start of the development we have three objectives: to maximise the mitigation and reduce the adverse impacts as much as possible; to achieve as much community benefit from the project as we can; and to make sure that the monitoring and enforcement roles that the local authorities are charged with are carried out effectively.”

The Common Concern awareness group, formed in 2013, also in response to the application, and aimed to keep people informed of the development and get the best possible outcome for the area. More than 200 people signed up to their mailing list.

Founder member Hilary Butler added: “We have influenced the outcome undoubtedly. That is quite an achievement for a nationally significant infrastructure project.

“The community has done very well indeed.”

n What do you think? Should the plans have been approved? Have local voices been heard?

TIMELINE

May 2013

First plans for the station by developers Progress Power are revealed. First public exhibition of the proposals are held in Eye Community Centre. After concerns the plant could result in more pylons across the Suffolk countryside, developers say power cables would be buried underground

September 2013

Carl Brown, of Four Oaks Park, in Brome, a resident of a nearby holiday park, starts a petition, claiming the development would cause “immense unrest”

November 2013

Awareness group Common Concern is formed, dedicated to keeping the community informed about the project. Suffolk County Council (SCC) confirms its support ‘in principle’ for the development, but says it needs to be satisfied “every reasonable effort has been undertaken to minimise the impacts”

March 2014

Application for Development Consent Order (DCO) submitted to then Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Ed Davey

April 2014

MP for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich Dr Dan Poulter, and then MP for Bury St Edmunds David Ruffley, write to developers Progress Power, expressing they are “extremely concerned” about aspects of the project. Application for DCO accepted by then Secretary of State

June 2014

Mid Suffolk District Council (MSDC) says development would be appropriate “in principle”, although concerns are raised over the connection from the substation to the grid

January 2015

Dr Poulter writes to the Planning Inspectorate, urging the application to be rejected. MSDC and SCC tell the examining authority they have “consistently and robustly objected” to the plans with concern over the location of the electrical connection compound

July 2015

Proposal approved by new Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Amber Rudd

2017

Construction set to begin

2019

Power station set to become operational

COMMENT: Dr Dan Poulter, MP

Central Suffolk and North Ipswich MP Dr Dan Poulter described the outcome for the people of Eye and the surrounding area as “unfortunate”, following the power station’s approval, and urged Progress Power to ensure they take the local community’s concerns on board. Dr Poulter, who penned multiple letters objecting to the application, said he had done all he could, but explained the site’s allocation for power generation had made it difficult for the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate to turn down.

He told the Diss Express: “The Secretary of State will, generally speaking, follow the advice of the planning inspector, unless there is compelling evidence on a massive scale. I think that’s something we will unfortunately have to accept.

“Most of the concerns could have been dealt with more easily if there had been better engagement from Progress Power. It’s often felt as if people have been consulted on a foregone conclusion.”

The MP reserved praise for Councillor David Burn and fellow opponents in helping give a voice to affected residents, and called on the local authorities to keep pushing forward their views.

“We need to make sure Progress Power are good to their word, particularly with regard to mitigating the visual impact and construction traffic.

“It’s now down to Mid Suffolk District Council and Suffolk County Council to do all they can to make sure the power station and the sub station have minimal impacts.”