STRATEGIC planners at Wiltshire Council have given the go-ahead for part of a 10.6-kilometre trench to be dug across the countryside from Westbury towards Frome.

The 4km stretch to the border with Somerset will carry an underground cable from the Northacre Renewable Energy gasification plant at Westbury to an electricity sub-station at Rodden Road in Frome to connect to the National Grid.

Whether it reaches Frome will depend on a similar decision to be made by Mendip District Council in Shepton Mallet at its next planning meeting on July 17.

The application was considered by Wiltshire strategic planners last Thursday after it has been called in by Cllr Russell Hawker, of Westbury West.

Mike Hill, Chief Executive of the Swindon-based Hills Group, which owns Northacre Renewable Energy, said the underground cabling was “essential” to connect the gasification plant to the National Grid and for the economic prosperity of the Westbury area.

He told Wiltshire Council’s strategic planning meeting on Thursday (June 20): “This state-of-the-art facility will use advanced gasification technology to treat non-recyclable waste and generate enough renewable energy to supply approximately 46,000 homes.

“Currently, tens of thousands of tonnes of local domestic and commercial waste are transported long distances to be landfilled or sent to energy from waste plants located as far away as Germany. This is neither environmentally nor economically sustainable.

“The Northacre facility will provide a long-term solution to waste management, remove thousands of lorry movements from our roads and reduce costs to local businesses, as well as to Wiltshire Council.

“The facility will be capable of generating 25.5 megawatts of renewable electricity, and will not only contribute to the UK’s energy security and transition away from fossil fuels, but also mean that we no longer have to actually pay other countries to produce energy that we in turn do not benefit from. Some of the energy produced at Northacre will be used on site and by neighbouring businesses, but the majority needs to be exported onto the National Grid.

The local grid connection, which currently comes from Frome via a 33kVA overhead power line is close to capacity. This represents a significant challenge for future growth at Northacre Industrial Estate and in Westbury as a whole. Without a new grid connection, development and new economic opportunities in the area could be limited.

“To enable the Northacre facility to export its renewable energy, we are proposing a new underground 33kVA cable. Once installed within a narrow 0.5m wide trench, and when the

area has been reinstated, the cable will not be visible and will have minimal environmental impact.

“The proposed cable route is from Northacre Industrial Estate to the substation at Rodden Road, Frome. Since the facility was originally granted consent in 2015, we have taken several years to consider the route extremely carefully to avoid environmentally sensitive areas and heritage sites.

“We have conducted extensive consultation with landowners, highways authorities, network rail and others to ensure that we can minimise impacts and any disruption. The option of taking the cable overhead or totally via highways were discounted because of the adverse impacts they would have.

“If this proposed grid installation was being undertaken by a statutory electricity provider, such as SSE, it would not require planning consent, as it falls within Permitted Development.

“Similarly, if the connection was routed along the public highway there would be no need for planning consent but would obviously cause a huge amount of inconvenience to road users during installation.

“The proposed grid connection is a project with extremely limited impacts but with significant benefits for local people and wider regional economy.”

Within Wiltshire the actual route for the cable would initially pass through the applicant’s land holding at Brook Farm, alongside Brook Lane (0.5km).

It would then head generally westwards, passing under Brook Drove and Biss Brook, and then through mainly farmland, before reaching Fairwood Road, close to Cuckoo’s Rest Caravan Park (0.9km).

The route then follows Fairwood Road to the north until its junction with an unnamed lane (footpath DMAR6), by ‘Fairwood’ (0.2km); here the route turns to the south-west to follow the line of the lane (for 0.2km).

It then continues to the west through farm and equestrian land to a further un-named lane (bridleway DMAR42), south of Stourton Bushes (1.3km). Passing under the bridleway, the route then continues generally westward through further farmland before crossing the county border, just to the south of Tennis Court Farm (0.6 km).

South West Wiltshire MP Dr Andrew Murrison, Westbury Town Council, Dilton Marsh Parish Council all objected to the scheme, and more than 45 representations were sent by local residents.

But the strategic planning committee unanimously approved the scheme, saying the benefits outweighed the potential harm.

Campaigners said the trench could damage the local environment and local ecology of the area, as it will have to pass through more than 16 hedgerows before it reaches the county border with Somerset.

Cllr Christopher Newberry, of Warminster, Copheap and Wylye, raised concerns about the impact on archaeological remains – there are mediaeval field systems on Brook Farm and the remains of a Roman villa – and sought assurances these would be protected.

Harriet James, from Warminster, said: “If this application is approved, Wiltshire Council would be in breach of the Environmental Impact Regulations 2017 and Wiltshire Core Policy 42.

“These require a description of the direct and indirect impact on climate, the nature and magnitude of greenhouse gas emissions, as well as an assessment of the cumulative effects of the grid connection, Advanced Thermal Treatment plant waste transfer station and Mechanical Biological Treatment plant in Westbury.”

Marie Hillcoat, from Westbury, said: “The grid application will impact more than 16 hedgerows and field boundaries in Wiltshire alone. A third of a mile of hedgerows could be trashed through poor working practice and insufficient protection.

“Northacre Renewable Energy is stamping 11km across two counties to lay a trench and the cost to biodiversity is too great and of no net benefit.”

Margaret Cavanna, of the Westbury Group Against Gasification, said: “There is a worrying lack of scrutiny by planners. Please refuse this application. It makes less and less sense and is wrong on many grounds.”