The views expressed in this page do not represent those of the Planning Inspectorate. This page consists of content submitted to the Planning Inspectorate by the public and other interested parties, giving their views of this proposal.
VPI Immingham OCGT
Received 24 June 2019
From Natural England
From Natural England
“Please note that we have also sent this response in the form of a letter to Clare Rands, DWD LLP on behalf of VPI Immingham B Ltd. Please let me know if you would like this to be sent to the Planning Inspectorate directly. Kind regards, Hannah Relevant Representation 1.1. Natural England’s advice in these relevant representations is based on information submitted by DWD LLP acting on behalf of VPI Immingham B Limited in support of its application for a Development Consent Order (‘DCO’) in relation to VPI Immingham Open Cycle Gas Turbine Project – proposal for a new gas-fired powerstation and associated development (‘the project’). 1.2. Natural England has been working closely with DWD LLP to provide advice and guidance since 19 December 2018. We raised a number of issues that we believe have now been mostly resolved. Please see below an outline of these issues and our final conclusions: 1.2.1. Potential air quality impacts of the proposal (both alone and in-combination with other plans/projects) on the Humber Estuary Special Area of Conservation (SAC), Special Protection Area (SPA), Ramsar site and Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) habitats. We advised that an assessment of the NOx process contributions for the operational phase of the project should be undertaken, including an in-combination assessment of 24hr NOx levels with other plans/projects. Conclusion: Natural England has now received the latest version of the Environmental Statement (dated April 2019) and is satisfied that adequate assessment has been carried out to support the conclusion that the proposal can be screened out from further stages of assessment because significant effects are unlikely to occur, either alone or in combination. On the basis of the information provided, Natural England concurs with this view. 1.2.2. Potential for the proposal to impact on designated bird populations of the Humber Estuary SPA, Ramsar site and SSSI through noise and visual disturbance, during both the construction and operational phases of the project. Natural England noted that noise and visual disturbance of wintering bird species from the Humber Estuary European sites were screened out from any further assessment with the reasoning that “the nearest mudflats are approximately 1.3km away from the proposed development”. However, this did not consider SPA/Ramsar bird species that were using the functionally linked land between the proposed site and the estuary. Therefore, further information was requested. Natural England also noted that in the Ecology section of the Preliminary Environmental Information Report (PEIR) at 9.7.12 (dated October 2018), it stated that the construction noise and visual activity levels would not exceed that of the background levels. However, the noise receptor appeared to be for a residential property rather than any ecological receptors. It was also noted in 9.7.14 of the PEIR that piling may be required, therefore we recommended that a noise assessment was carried out for the worst case scenario. Further correspondence from DWD LLP stated that if piling will be required then appropriate noise assessments will be carried out and if necessary mitigation measures will be put in place, this will be dealt with in the Construction Environmental Management Statement (CEMP). Conclusion: Natural England has now received the latest version of the Environmental Statement (dated April 2019). Natural England is satisfied that adequate assessment of the potential impacts of visual disturbance from the project has been carried out to support the conclusion that the proposal can be screened out from further stages of assessment because significant effects are unlikely to occur, either alone or in combination. On the basis of the information provided, Natural England concurs with this view. However, it is the advice of Natural England that further assessment/explanation is still required to rule out any likely significant effect on features of the Humber Estuary SPA, Ramsar site and SSSI from noise disturbance. Details of which will be discussed in further detail below. 1.2.3. Natural England advised that the application should be considered in combination with other plans or projects for impacts on the Humber Estuary European sites. Conclusion: Natural England has now received the latest version of the Environmental Statement (dated April 2019) and is satisfied that adequate assessment has been carried out to support the conclusion that the proposal can be screened out from further stages of assessment because significant effects are unlikely to occur, either alone or in combination. Not withstanding our concerns regarding noise impacts and on the basis of the information provided, Natural England concurs with this view. 1.2.4. Natural England noted that the development falls within the South Humber Gateway, a strategic mitigation approach in North Lincolnshire. The Ecology section of the PEIR stated that “no reliance will be placed on the delivery of Halton Marshes Wet Grassland in the assessment”, but no further information has been provided on how the proposed development fits into the strategic mitigation approach. Conclusion: Natural England is content that as the proposed project will be built on brownfield that it is unlikely that contributions will be required towards the South Humber Gateway strategy. However, we recommend that the applicant confirms this approach with the Local Planning Authority. 1.2.5. Natural England noted that no water vole surveys had been carried out. As stated in the Preliminary Ecological Appraisal (PEA), “it appears that this species is relatively widespread and common in the wider local area”, the area has been known as a “stronghold” for the species and therefore although it may be that the habitat is “sub-optimal”, we advised that a survey should still be carried out. In addition to this, if the habitat is not adequate for the species, there may be some scope to make the ditch more suitable for the species to re-colonise; this could be considered as a net gain. DWD LLP responded that the drainage ditch had been assessed for suitability for water vole and found that it would provide very poor habitat for water vole and that only a small alteration will be made to the ditch. However, pre-construction surveys for water vole will be carried out at least 3 months prior to the commencement of the works. Conclusion: Natural England welcomes the inclusion of the pre-construction surveys outlined. These surveys may require protected species licensing and mitigation. We have no further concerns at this time, however, we recommend that as stated a precautionary working method statement is provided as part of the CEMP. 1.2.6. DWD LLP requested confirmation from Natural England on the suitability of their great crested newt (GCN) survey design, as one pond could not be surveyed due to Health and Safety concerns. We commented that “it is difficult to rule out, with any degree of certainty, the likely absence of GCNs from the lagoon on the basis of confirmed absence in nearby ponds - if there is good terrestrial habitat surrounding the lagoon and only a small population is present there may be little incentive for the population to utilise other waterbodies. Secondly, the use of reptile mats (not designed for amphibians), outside of the core terrestrial habitat surrounding the lagoon, is an inefficient means of determining absence and should not be relied upon as the sole survey method. If it is not possible to undertake an eDNA survey due to health and safety concerns, we recommend that a HSI score is recorded for the lagoon (this can be done with limited access to the waterbody) and that a concerted artificial refuge (carpet tile) survey is conducted in the area immediately surrounding the lagoon during Mar/Apr as adults emerge from hibernation and migrate towards breeding habitat. The results can be used to better inform any decision regarding the likely presence of GCNs in the area.” Conclusion: Natural England received the results of additional survey work carried out by DWD LLP on 28 May 2019. Natural England is satisfied that sufficient effort has been undertaken to determine GCN presence/absence at Pond 3 in the absence of the standard survey methodology. Given that: (1) no GCNs were recorded under artificial refugia, over a 5 week period, at a time of year when adult newts present in the area would be moving towards the pond to breed and (2) the confirmed absence (in 2018) of GCN from any of the other ponds in the area, it is reasonable to conclude that GCN presence in the area is highly unlikely. 1.2.7. Natural England noted that it appeared that no habitat surveys had been carried out for the area that the new gas pipeline is proposed. However, DWD LLP provided an update that “the route of the pipeline had been refined and it is now proposed to be routed entirely through the existing VPI Combined Heat and Power Plant site; an operational power station covered principally of hardstanding with no habitats of ecological interest. Therefore no habitat or ecological effects are envisaged as a result of construction of the proposed pipeline”. Conclusion: Natural England have no further substantive comments on this matter. 1.2.8. Natural England also made the recommendation that the applicant could further explore options to enhance biodiversity as part of the project. Natural England believes that Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects can make a significant contribution to delivering the environmental ambition in the Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan. This aims to deliver an environmental net gain through development and infrastructure. Natural England notes that the enhancement measures that have been described for this project are the addition of log pile refuges, nest boxes and planting native trees and shrubs. There was also one mention of the addition of species-rich grassland, however, it is unclear where this would be and how big an area this would cover. These measures are welcomed by Natural England, however we did not believe that given the nature and scale of the development and the loss of the open mosaic habitat that these enhancements measures were adequate in terms of creating a net environmental gain from the development and would probably result in a net loss of natural resource. Natural England encouraged the applicant to consider additional enhancement measures to provide further benefits to the local environment. Conclusion: Natural England welcomes the commitment by the developer for proportionate biodiversity enhancement measures and acknowledges that the final design is still to be decided. Natural England welcomes the opportunity to comment on the BEMP at the appropriate stage. 1.3. These relevant representations contain a summary of what Natural England considers the main nature conservation issues to be in relation to the DCO application, and indicate the principal submissions that it wishes to make at this point. Natural England will develop these points further as appropriate during the examination process. It may have further or additional points to make, particularly if further information about the project becomes available. 1.4. Part I of these representations provides an overview of the issues and a summary of Natural England’s advice. Section 2 identifies the natural features relevant to this application. Section 3 summarises Natural England’s overall view of the application and the main issues which it considers need to be addressed by the Secretary of State. 1.5. Part II of these representations sets out all the significant issues which remain outstanding, and which Natural England advises should be addressed by VPI Immingham B Limited and the Examining Authority as part of the examination process in order to ensure that the project can properly be consented. These are primarily issues on which further information would be required in order to allow the Examining Authority properly to undertake its task or where further work is required to determine the effects of the project to provide a sufficient degree of confidence as to their efficacy. 1.6. Natural England will continue discussions with VPI Immingham B Limited to seek to resolve these concerns and agree outstanding matters in a statement of common ground. Failing satisfactory agreement, Natural England advises that the matters set out in sections 4 to 6 will require consideration by the Examining Authority as part of the examination process. 1.7. The Examining Authority may wish to ensure that the matters set out in these relevant representations are addressed as part of the Examining Authority’s first set of questions to ensure the provision of information early in the examination process. 2. The natural features potentially affected by this application 2.1. The designated sites relevant to this application are: 2.1.1. Humber Estuary Special Protection Area (SPA) 2.1.2. Humber Estuary Special Area of Conservation (SAC) 2.1.3. Humber Estuary Ramsar site 2.1.4. Humber Estuary Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) 2.2. The following nationally protected species may be affected by the proposed project: 2.2.1. Water vole (in the absence of any surveys) 2.3. The following areas of non-designated but valuable and sensitive habitat could be affected: 2.3.1. Rosper Road Pools Local Wildlife Site (LWS) 2.4. The main issues raised by this application are the potential for the project to impact on the wintering bird assemblage of the Humber Estuary SPA and Ramsar site through noise disturbance. There is potential for impact on the wintering bird assemblage of the Humber Estuary SPA and Ramsar site utilising supporting habitat (‘Functionally Linked Land’) in close proximity to the project, particularly the fields to the east of the project and Rosper Road Pools LWS, through both construction and operational disturbance impacts. Further information is required to support an assessment of potential impacts and enable a conclusion on likely significant effect. Many of the species included in the Humber Estuary SPA/Ramsar site overwintering assemblage are also named on the Humber Estuary SSSI citation, particularly Curlew, and so the proposal also has the potential to impact upon the wintering bird species of the Humber Estuary SSSI through construction and operation disturbance. This is outlined in more detail in Section 3.3. PART II: NATURAL ENGLAND’S RELEVANT REPRESENTATIONS IN RESPECT OF VPI IMMINGHAM OCGT PROJECT 3. Planning Inspectorate Reference: EN010097 3.1. Natural England’s advice is that in relation to identified nature conservation issues within its remit there is no fundamental reason of principle why the project should not be permitted but that the applicant has provided insufficient evidence to establish that there will be no impact on the wintering bird assemblage of the Humber Estuary SPA and Ramsar site. 3.2. Natural England’s headline points are that on the basis of the information submitted: 3.2.1. Natural England is satisfied that there is no potential for impact on the Humber Estuary SAC as a result of the project. 3.2.2. Natural England is satisfied that there are not likely to be significant water quality impacts on the Humber Estuary SSSI, SPA, SAC or Ramsar site as a result of the project. 3.2.3. Natural England is satisfied that there are not likely to be significant air quality impacts on the Humber Estuary SSSI, SPA, SAC or Ramsar site as a result of the project. 3.2.4. Natural England is satisfied that there are not likely to be impacts on European Protected Species as a result of the project. 3.2.5. Natural England is not satisfied that it can be excluded beyond reasonable scientific doubt that the project would not have a likely significant effect on the Humber Estuary SPA or Ramsar site. 3.2.6. Natural England is not satisfied that the proposal is not likely to damage features of interest of the Humber Estuary SSSI. 3.2.7. Natural England advises that, if approved, the project must be subject to all necessary and appropriate requirements which ensure that unacceptable environmental impacts either do not occur or are sufficiently mitigated. 3.3. Natural England’s advice is that there are a number of matters which have not been resolved satisfactorily as part of the pre-application process that must be addressed by VPI Immingham B Limited and the Examining Authority as part of the examination and consenting process before development consent can be granted. Some of these matters are important enough to mean that if they are not satisfactorily addressed it would not be lawful to permit the project due to its impacts on the SAC, SPA, Ramsar and SSSI interests. However, Natural England’s advice is that all these matters are capable of being overcome. The specific concerns in relation to each are outlined below. 3.3.1. A noise sensitive receptor at a residential property (Hazeldene) has been provided to form the basis of the noise assessment. Natural England requires further information to determine if this noise receptor provides a representative location for SPA/Ramsar /SSSI bird species using the functionally linked land at “Rosper road fields”. Additionally we note that ambient noise levels have been assessed, however, bird species are particularly susceptible to loud, sudden noises and therefore we recommend that peak noise levels (LApeak) are also included in addition to ambient noise levels (LAeq) in the noise assessment. Furthermore, the ES concludes at Chapter 9, 9.9.13 that “none of the construction activities will generate noise that would be discernible above the ambient noise environment of the industrial sites surrounding the Rosper road fields.” However, the assessment of how this has been determined has not been provided. 3.3.2. In addition, Natural England considers that assessment of noise/visual disturbance impacts at Rosper Road Pools LWS should also be carried out as this site may also provide a functional habitat for SPA/Ramsar/SSSI bird species. 3.3.3. The ES describes that piling activities may occur and that currently no noise assessment has taken place to determine any impacts on designated sites from potential piling activities. Therefore Natural England considers that further assessment will be required, if piling becomes a future requirement. Natural England would welcome the opportunity to make comments on a more detailed CEMP at the appropriate stage. PART II: OUTSTANDING MATTERS REQUIRING ATTENTION 4. Further evidence or assessment work required 4.1. Further details to clarify how the noise assessment was carried out, including evidence that the noise receptors locations are representative of areas that are used as supporting habitat by SPA/Ramsar/SSSI assemblage species; details on peak noise levels and data to support the conclusion that the project will not increase noise levels in the area. 4.2. Assessment of noise/visual disturbance impacts at Rosper Road Pools LWS. 5. Matters that must be secured by requirements in the DCO 5.1. The ES describes that piling activities may occur and that currently no noise assessment has taken place to determine any impacts on designated sites from potential piling activities. Therefore Natural England considers that further assessment will be required, if piling becomes a future requirement. Natural England would welcome the opportunity to make comments on a more detailed CEMP at the appropriate stage. 5.2. Water vole surveys have not yet been carried, if works will take place near or on the drainage ditch within the proposal site, these surveys must be carried out to determine the presence of water voles. 6. Comments on the draft DCO 6.1. Natural England notes Requirement 6 in Schedule 2 relating to adoption of a Biodiversity Enhancement and Management Plan (BEMP) and supports the inclusion of this requirement. 6.2. Natural England notes Requirement 14 in Schedule 2 relating to adoption of a Construction Environment Management Plan (CEMP) and supports the inclusion of this requirement. Natural England 24 June 2019”