It will be recalled that the second public inquiry into the proposed Spring Farm Ridge Windfarm took place in October 2013. The purpose of the inquiry was to consider the appeal by the developers, Broadview Energy Limited, against South Northants Council’s decision to refuse planning permission for the scheme. After hearing all the evidence and carrying out site visits, an Inspector at a planning appeal normally takes a few months to consider the matter, write a report and issue a decision either to allow the appeal and grant planning permission or dismiss the appeal and refuse planning permission.
In this case, it was expected that the Inspector would publish his decision before Christmas 2013. However, during the course of the inquiry, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles, announced that he would be making the decision for himself. The Inspector was therefore required to consider the evidence and present a report to the Secretary of State together with a recommendation. It probable that this report was completed by the end of 2013.
Early in 2014, the Secretary of State requested the views of the main parties to the appeal in respect of certain new evidence and revised government planning policy before making his decision. These parties are South Northants Council, Broadview Energy Limited and the Helmdon Stuchbury and Greatworth Windfarm Action Group (HSGWAG). The Secretary of State announced that this would delay the announcement of the decision until July 9th. HSGWAG duly commissioned barrister Richard Honey and his expert witnesses to prepare and submit appropriate representations on its behalf.
July 9th duly came and went with no announcement of any kind. After repeated requests, a government spokesman agreed that the deadline had been missed but could not give a new date for the decision.
On 15th July, the three main parties to the appeal received a letter from the Secretary of State stating that he would not be in a position to make his decision until he had received their views on the legal implications of the Appeal Court judgement in respect of Barnwell Manor v East Northants DC. Essentially, the Court of Appeal overturned an Inspector’s decision to allow an appeal against the refusal of planning permission for a windfarm on the basis that the impact of the turbines on local heritage assets had not been properly considered.
Once again, HSGWAG’s barrister Richard Honey, was commissioned to prepare representations on this matter before the deadline of 12th August, which he duly did, and then to submit comments on the representations made by Broadview Energy Limited, which he also did.
The final date for the submission of representations on this matter by the main parties is 22nd August. It is assumed that once these have been considered, the Secretary of State will finally be in a position to make and publish his decision. It is not possible to put a date on this, since the final sentence of the government’s letter requesting comments on the Barnwell case simply said “We aim to issue the decision as soon as reasonably possible after any responses have been considered.”
What is meant by “as soon as reasonably possible” remains to be seen!