Large infrastructure projects of national importance often cause environmental or other forms of harm to the areas where they are located. As a High Court ruling showed, however, there are cases where public benefit considerations outweigh local concerns, no matter how justified they may be.
The case concerned proposals to build electricity substations on an expanse of rural land measuring over 46 hectares. They were intended to connect two offshore wind farms to the National Grid. Despite a storm of local opposition, the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy issued development consent orders (DCOs) authorising the proposed works.
A local campaign group that objected to the location of the substations mounted a judicial review challenge. It asserted, amongst other things, that the Secretary of State erred in his assessment of flood risks, noise generated by switchgear and circuit breakers, and the harm that the development would cause to heritage assets.
Ruling on the matter, the Court noted that the overall development is classified as a nationally important infrastructure project. The proposals were subject to public consultation and detailed consideration by an examining authority. In its report to the Secretary of State, the examining authority noted that the local harm the project would cause was substantial and should not be underestimated. Mitigation measures, it said, were only just sufficient.
However, in finding that the public benefits arising from the project would outweigh its substantial adverse impacts, the examining authority noted highly weighty global and national considerations concerning the need to increase renewable energy generating capacity to meet public demand and to mitigate the climate impact of carbon emissions.
In reaching its finely balanced conclusions, the EA recognised that they would be met with considerable dismay by many local residents and businesses who had contributed positively and passionately to the planning process and who had raised issues of real concern. In his ultimate decision, the Secretary of State found that there was a strong case in favour of making the DCOs.
Dismissing the challenge, the Court could detect no legal flaw in the Secretary of State’s decision. He was entitled to conclude that the substantial local harm the development would cause was outweighed by the national benefits of providing highly significant renewable energy generation capacity.