The High Court has quashed the government's decision to allow Vattenfall to build a huge 1.8GW offshore wind farm off the coast of Norfolk, arguing Ministers had failed to take into account the full impacts of onshore transmission infrastructure.
The Norfolk Vanguard offshore wind farm was granted development consent by the government in July last year by then-Business Secretary Alok Sharma.
But Mr Judge Holgate confirmed yesterday that Ministers must now re-determine the application, ruling that regulations were breached when the government failed to evaluate available information about the "cumulative impacts" of the development of substations that would connect Norfolk Vanguard and its sister project Norfolk Boreas to the grid.
The plans had attracted "substantial objections" from locals in and around the Norfolk town of Necton, he noted, including from the claimant of the case, a local resident living near a planned cable route.
"There is no justification for the court to withhold the relief sought by the claimant," the decision reads. "The Defendant's decision letter dated 1 July 2020 to grant a development consent order for the Norfolk Vanguard Offshore Wind Farm… must be quashed."
Holgate warned the decision could also impact the outcome of a consent ruling on Vattenfall's 1.8GW Norfolk Boreas project, which is currently proceeding through the government's planning system.
"The defendant will need to give careful consideration as to how the evaluation of cumulative impacts relating to development at Necton for both projects should be approached in each decision," he said.
Danielle Lane, UK country manager for Vattenfall, urged the government to re-determine consent "as quickly as possible" and insisted the company had met all the requirements on developers through the planning process.
"This is a very disappointing outcome, but it relates to the process for granting consent and is not about the merits of our world class Norfolk Vanguard project," she said, "Planning consent was awarded in July 2020 after Vattenfall fulfilled all the requirements placed on developers. It is vital that the government now acts to redetermine consent, with regard to the judge's ruling, as quickly as possible. That way we can continue to invest in the region and remain on track to begin generating low cost, renewable electricity by the late 2020s."
The decision also disappointed the government and trade groups, with Melanie Onn, deputy chief executive at RenewableUK, emphasising that large offshore wind projects needed to "go ahead as swiftly as possible" to put the UK on track to meet its target of developing 40GW of offshore wind by 2030.
"We hope the government will examine today's judgement carefully and respond in a way that supports meaningful action against the most dangerous threat to our planet - climate change," she said. "This is especially important in the year when we are hosting COP26, as new projects are vital to maintain the UK's global lead in offshore wind".
A spokesperson from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) said: "we are disappointed by the outcome but we will be considering the judgment carefully before deciding next steps."