Go-ahead for Green Belt battery plans

Planning Inspectorate overrides initial rejection by council of energy storage facility reports Simon Allin, Local Democracy Reporter

Birdseye view of the Green Belt site in Mill Hill (credit Google)
Birdseye view of the Green Belt site in Mill Hill (credit Google)

Plans to build a battery plant on Green Belt land in Mill Hill have been approved by the government’s Planning Inspectorate.

Barnet Council refused plans to build the energy storage facility on fields next to the National Grid substation in Partingdale Lane last year, ruling that it would be an inappropriate development on the Green Belt.

The plans met with fierce opposition from residents, with the council receiving more than 900 letters of objection during a public consultation.

But after considering an appeal by developer HB333MIL Ltd, a planning inspector ruled that the scheme could go ahead as its benefits would “outweigh the substantial harm found to the Green Belt”.

Designed to store power at times of excess supply so it can be used at periods of high demand, the plant will consist of 20 containers rising to almost three metres high, housing battery storage systems installed on a 0.49-hectare greenfield site, along with transformer stations, fencing and CCTV cameras.

Opponents of the scheme claimed it would damage the environment – including a site of importance for nature conservation (Sinc) – and cause noise pollution that would disturb residents living nearby. There were also fears for the health and safety of residents following reports of fires and a “fatal explosion” at similar facilities.

National planning policies prevent building on the Green Belt except in “very special circumstances” where the harm caused is “clearly outweighed by other considerations” – which a council planning committee unanimously agreed did not exist.

In a decision notice published on 13th March, almost a year after the committee made its decision, planning inspector Ben Plenty acknowledged there would be harm to the Green Belt but said the battery plant would support the UK’s shift to renewable energy and help combat climate change, citing the government’s target to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

He added that the only alternative sites for the facility would be “elsewhere within the Green Belt or on sites where excessive additional costs would make the proposal unviable”.

The inspector wrote that the scheme would not materially harm the Sinc because tree loss could be offset by replacement landscaping. He added that there would not be an adverse noise impact and there was no clear evidence the plant would pose a fire or chemical safety risk.

Roger Selby, a member of the main committee and planning group at Mill Hill Preservation Society, branded the inspector’s decision “undemocratic” and claimed it set a “dreadful precedent” for “further encroachment on our precious green spaces”.

He told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “It is a prime Green Belt location. Once that starts to be damaged and built up, where does it finish?”

Roger said many local people were “outraged” by the decision and felt the battery plant would be better situated next to a site of renewable energy production.

Planning inspectors’ decisions can be challenged in the High Court within six weeks of the decision date, via a judicial review.

The developer was approached for comment via its planning agent.

A spokesperson for the developer said: “The battery energy storage scheme at Mill Hill is of vital importance to the National Grid to provide a safe and secure electricity supply in the London area and allow more renewable energy to be part of the UK energy mix.

“Our scheme has been carefully designed so as to give no noise disturbance or be visible to local residents. Both of these considerations were carefully considered by the planning inspector.”

The spokesperson added that the scheme would provide “vital services” for the 3.2-hectare electrical substation, and that in the context of the existing infrastructure it was sited in an “appropriate location”.

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