A PLANNING inspector has set out the key issues to be put under the microscope during the decision-making process on plans for a £250m biomass-fuelled power station on the Northumberland coastline.
A formal examination begins this month into the bid by Renewable Energy Systems (RES) to build the 100-megawatt generating plant at Battleship Wharf on the River Blyth.
RES has applied to the Planning Inspectorate for approval to build the power station at the Port of Blyth’s cargo-handling facility between the villages of North Blyth and Cambois.
Now the inspector appointed to conduct an examination of the proposal – which will take place over the next five months – has held an initial meeting, and outlined the principal issues which will be looked into before a decision is made.
These include safety, emissions, landscape, visual impacts, design, the marine environment, access and transport and the sustainability of biomass fuel.
RES says the power plant, which will be fuelled by woodchip, pellets or briquettes, will have the capacity to provide the annual energy needs of 170,000 homes.
Dozens of people in the two neighbouring communities are campaigning against its construction, claiming it will be too big and too close to their homes.
Fears have also been voiced that it will cause air pollution and traffic problems, and there are concerns about a potential fire risk posed by the storage of large quantities of biomass, because it is prone to self-ignition.
As part of the examination by the Planning Inspectorate, Northumberland County Council has to produce a Local Impact Report (LIR) on the project, and has sought views and comments from local residents on what matters should be covered.
RES says the power station will create between 200 and 300 construction jobs, and up to 50 permanent posts. It will include a group of fuel storage buildings up to 25 metres tall and a 60/70m-tall boiler house, with a chimney up to 100m tall.
A report to the county council’s planning and environment committee this week said the LIR should include a section on the landscape and visual impacts of the project.
Frances Wilkinson, the council’s strategic and urban development manager, said: “Although the proposal would be located in an industrial area which already contains a number of vertical structures and large-scale industrial buildings, it would be located in close proximity to a number of houses in North Blyth and would be visible in medium and longer distance views over quite an extensive area.”
However, she says the proposed biomass power station is considered to be a suitable development for Battleship Wharf, as it is on previously developed land, will create jobs and help promote the Port of Blyth.
In addition, it is not felt that the project will harm important wetland and nature conservation sites nearby.
The examination of the RES application will continue until February, after which the inspector will make a recommendation to the Secretary of State on whether to grant consent for the development.