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Gas-fired power plant proposals for Sudbury rejected after Babergh planners cite contradiction with climate change policies

A proposed gas-fired power plant in Sudbury – intended to support the grid during peak demand time – has been knocked back after planners decided it contradicted goals to reduce carbon emissions and address climate change.

Babergh District Council’s planning committee voted on Wednesday to narrowly reject an application by Balance Power Projects to build a standby energy generation facility north-east of Church Field Road, on the Chilton Industrial Estate.

After members were deadlocked at five votes apiece for approval and rejection, committee chairman Stephen Plumb cast the tie-breaking vote to defeat the proposal, despite the planning officer’s earlier recommendation for approval.

A bird's-eye-view of Skyview Systems on the Chilton Industrial Estate in Sudbury, and the vacant adjacent site where a gas-fired energy facility has been proposed. Contributed picture.
A bird's-eye-view of Skyview Systems on the Chilton Industrial Estate in Sudbury, and the vacant adjacent site where a gas-fired energy facility has been proposed. Contributed picture.

However, following the vote, officers advised there is a strong likelihood the developer will appeal the decision, and warned that it could be overturned.

The scheme was put forward as a stop-gap measure, with a lifespan of between 20 and 25 years, to ensure electricity supply is maintained in periods of high demand, while the national energy network transitions to zero-carbon sources.

In recommending it for approval, case officer Lynda Bacon argued gas-peaking facilities like this had “a critical role to play” in the UK energy market over the medium term, and that the need for the plant would “diminish over time and will ultimately disappear”.

Cllr Peter Beer said: “We’ve all read the scary headlines of running out of electricity in the future, so this is something that would obviously be welcomed, if it was needed at that time to bridge a gap.

“I think anything to help keep the lights on for the country, we should take part in.”

But opponents criticised the proposal for continuing the dependence on fossil fuels at a time when greater emphasis should be placed on cutting emissions.

Concerns were also raised about the location of the site, previously earmarked as employment land, as well as the potential impact both the air and noise pollution would have on nearby homes, businesses and the listed Chilton Church.

Cllr David Busby said: “It’s supposed to be an employment site and will generate no employment. It’s not needed for local use. It’s going to chuck out a pile of carbon, which is not good for the climate.

“I can’t see any reason for allowing this application to go ahead.”

The application for the new gas-fired energy facility was resubmitted earlier this year, attempting to address concerns about a previous version of the plans was withdrawn in 2020.

It promised to serve almost 23,000 homes with the electricity it generated, and would have been required to operate no more than 2,500 hours (or 104 days) per year.

Speaking on behalf of the developer, agent Robert Gandy said: “The National Planning Policy Framework states it is very important for the planning system to support the desired transition to a low-carbon future.

“The energy output proposed by this application would help to address this target, as larger power stations are decommissioned and fully-sustainable forms of energy production are utilised.”

But more than 84 objections were lodged by members of the public, on the grounds that they felt the power plant would have a negative effect on the overall setting, and create no new jobs, as it would be an unmanned facility.

Skyview Systems, based adjacent to the proposed site in Church Field Road, also campaigned against the scheme, stating it would have to consider its position in Sudbury should it go ahead, citing the noise disturbance and the conflict with its own carbon reduction efforts.

Tony Foster, vice-chairman of Chilton Parish Council, which opposed the plans, said that “credibility will be lost” in Babergh’s climate change statements and policies, if it gave the facility the green light.

He told Babergh’s planning committee on Wednesday: “Your policy says all new development will be required to minimise dependency on fossil fuels and make the fullest contribution to the mitigation of climate change. This development does the opposite.”

The meeting heard from Babergh’s environmental management officer, who explained he had reversed his initial opposition after the applicant supplied sufficient evidence for the facility’s need, adding that he believed it would be “a necessary evil”.

Several councillors supporting the application echoed this sentiment, with Cllr Simon Barrett stating: “It’s about transition. It’s not about a permanent solution.”

Cllr Michael Holt added: “I think it’s a necessary evil for the times we live in. It’s there to fill in the gap until we come to more sustainable forms of energy.”

However, a majority of committee members determined there was not a need for such a facility in Sudbury, where there were very few blackouts on record.

The plant’s reported emissions rate, which would be the equivalent to the annual consumption of two households every hour it was operating, also drew concerns.

Cllr Leigh Jamieson said: “I can’t see any benefits to Sudbury. There’s no employment, there’s an increase in noise, and it will affect the heritage site of the church.

“The electricity is going into the grid and is not dedicated to the people of Sudbury.”

Cllr John Hinton added: “I fail to see why there is a necessity to put this on the outskirts of Sudbury, when there are no instances of blackouts over a lack of capacity.”

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