Council criticised for '˜ignoring residents' concerns over works'

Northumberland County Council has come in for criticism following highway works in relation to a windfarm development.

Sunday, 17th April 2016, 2:30 pm
Construction of the Sisters windfarm, near Widdrington, began last year. Picture by Jane Coltman

The Infinis Energy Sisters project, near Widdrington Village, which comprises four turbines, is in the middle of its development phase.

Residents say works on the road and footpath have been taking place in the evening, on weekends and bank holidays during the Easter period.

James Grant, also a member of Widdrington Village Parish Council, called on the county council to take urgent action as he was worried that there is the potential for a serious accident.

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His specific concerns included problems with the temporary traffic lights being stuck on red on both sides and a dump truck being driven at speed along a footpath.

He was told that Northern Powergrid is carrying out the works to install cables to Linton Sub Station and the utility provider is not restricted by the planning conditions, which apply to Infinis.

But Mr Grant said: “Given the ambiguous wording of this particular application, I remained under the falsehood (like many others) that the conditions applied to all of the work including the cable infrastructure to Linton and it took a month from my first complaint for the county council to inform me about this particular point.

“I checked the legislation on the regulations and when it comes to installing cables, Northern Powergrid adheres to the Traffic Management Act (TMA) 2004 and the New Roads and Streetworks Act 1991. The TMA 2004 does provide for the local highways authority to impose conditions on the hours and days of operation.

“And when major disruption has been caused, resulting in safety issues, and pavements and highways are caked in mud and spoil, the council should have taken urgent action.”

The Sisters scheme neighbours the nine-turbine North Steads windfarm, which is also currently being constructed by Infinis.

A county council spokeswoman said: “We have fully investigated the issues raised and are satisfied that to date there have been no breaches of planning control.

“Only work carried out by Infinis is subject to the conditions placed on the planning permission. Northern Powergrid is a ‘statutory undertaker’ and is able to carry out work under permitted development rights, which fall outside the scope of planning control.

“The company has operated within the scope of its permitted development rights.

“We take compliance with planning conditions seriously and as work progresses on the site, we will monitor it closely.”

“We are of course very concerned if there are risks to road safety and these issues should be reported to the police.”

A Northern Powergrid spokeswoman said that it liaised with the council to provide required notifications and details about the work and, in mid-March, it wrote to residents who would be affected by the closure of the C115.

She added: “We do understand that engineering projects like this can be inconvenient and would like to reassure residents we are working to minimise on-site disruption while we complete this required connection. We ensure safe traffic management systems are in place with 24-hour back-up repair arrangements if there are any issues with the traffic lights.

“On one occasion in March, we experienced a problem with the traffic lights on the A1068. We took action to co-ordinate a repair, engineers attended within 45 minutes, and during this period our on-site team worked to keep traffic flowing safely and as quickly as possible.”