The High Court has quashed development consent awarded to Vattenfall’s 1.8GW Norfolk Vanguard offshore wind farm. The Hon Mr Justice Holgate said that the secretary of state had been wrong not to consider the cumulative effect of co-locating the onshore infrastructure of the wind farm with that of a second to be sited nearby, Norfolk Boreas, in making his decision.
The two wind farms would total 3.6GW and the secretary of state is due to make a decision on Norfolk Boreas by 12 April.
The Judge said the legal challenge had arisen because National Infrastructure Planning and the secretary of state decided to defer any evaluation of cumulative impacts to the decision on the Boreas project. He said, “They did so without the point being discussed publicly during the examination process. They did so on the basis of reasoning which, even on a generous view, could only be described as cursory, despite the importance of the decision being taken and the substantial concerns which had been raised about the selection of Necton for co-located grid connections.” All consideration of cumulative effects had been deferred because the secretary of state said that there was limited information available on the Boreas plans, but both, said the judge, “had been based on a strategy of co-location.” A number of features plainly required the cumulative impacts of the substations for both projects to be assessed as part of the Vanguard decision and not simply left over to the Boreas decision.
The decision has brought into sharp focus the UK’s regime for connecting wind farms to the onshore network, just as consideration is being given to how to change it. In the past, government and regulators were wary of offshore grids and large connections that could be shared, fearing that GB consumers could end up paying for unneeded infrastructure. In addition the so-called ‘Ofto’ competitive regime had, Ofgem believed, reduced costs for small direct connections. However, the offshore wind industry has grown much bigger than was envisaged under the Ofto/single connection regime and so has the number of connections. Instead, Ofgem is considering a new approach with shared connections.
Danielle Lane, Vattenfall Head of market development offshore and UK country manager said: “This is a very disappointing outcome, but it relates to the process for granting consent and is not about the merits of our world class Norfolk Vanguard project.
“Planning consent was awarded in July 2020 after Vattenfall fulfilled all the requirements placed on developers. It’s vital that the government now acts to redetermine consent, with regard to the judge’s ruling, as quickly as possible. That way we can continue to invest in the region and remain on track to begin generating low cost, renewable electricity by the late 2020s.
“With the expansion in offshore wind that’s required for the UK to reach net zero by 2050, the planning process needs to be able to address and resolve issues much sooner and avoid the uncertainty about whether projects will proceed even after they have planning approval.”
Melanie Onn, deputy chief executive, RenewableUK said: ”If the UK is serious about achieving the Prime Minister’s target of 40GW of offshore wind by 2030, we need major projects like Norfolk Vanguard to go ahead as swiftly as possible. Developing new offshore wind projects will bring billions in new investment to the UK and create tens of thousands of high-quality jobs after the pandemic.
“We hope the government will examine today’s judgement carefully and respond in a way that supports meaningful action against the most dangerous threat to our planet – climate change. This is especially important in the year when we are hosting COP26, as new projects are vital to maintain the UK’s global lead in offshore wind”.
It is not the first time relatively small onshore requirements have placed an obstacle in the path of offshore wind. Between 2006 and 2007 the fate of the then-worldbeating London Array offshore wind farm lay in the balance after Swale Borough Council refused planning permission for the necessary onshore substation. It took a year for a revised design to be produced and win development consent.
In his regular planning blog, Angus Walker of BDB Pitmans said: …” the application goes back to its decision stage, a consultation will take place on matters chosen by the Secretary of State, and the decision will be retaken.
“These quashings are frustrating for applicants, because they didn’t arise from anything that they did wrong. It will no doubt send a frisson of anxiety through the body of inspectors charged with writing reports to make sure what they are saying is consistent with the examination documents and hearings, and perhaps also government departments to be less ready to adopt inspectors’ reports uncritically.”