Together SSE Renewables and RWE have been active in the East Anglia region since the organisations jointly developed and constructed the Greater Gabbard Offshore Wind Farm, located 25 kilometres off the coast of Suffolk in the North Sea and operated out of Lowestoft. The 504 megawatt (MW) project started construction in 2008 and at the time was the world's largest offshore wind farm. It has 140 wind turbines and was commissioned in September 2012. North Falls is an extension project to Greater Gabbard.
In February 2017, The Crown Estate, manager of the seabed, launched a process for wind farm operators to apply for extensions to their existing projects. This opportunity closed in May 2018, with eight project applications received.
A plan level habitats regulations assessment (HRA), was undertaken to assess the possible impact of the proposed wind farm extensions on relevant nature conservation sites of European importance.
Expert independent advisors were utilised and there were consultations with the statutory marine planning authorities, the statutory nature conservation bodies and a number of non-governmental stakeholders.
In August 2019, The Crown Estate announced the conclusion of the HRA confirming that seven of the 2017 extension application projects, representing a total generating capacity of 2.85GW, would progress to the award of development rights, including what is now called North Falls Offshore Wind Farm.
The Agreement for Lease between North Falls Offshore Wind Farm and The Crown Estate was signed in Autumn 2020 and the project is now in development with the aim of submitting its application in 2023 and receiving a development consent order (DCO) in 2025.
Construction would then take place in the latter part of the decade with a view to the project being operational by 2030, aligned to Government targets.
Visit The Crown Estate website to find out more about its role in the UK's offshore wind industry:Visit The Crown Estate website
Greater Gabbard under construction
Pre-application phase - progress since 2020
Since North Falls signed its Agreement for Lease with The Crown Estate, the project team has been in what is called the pre-application stage. As a nationally significant infrastructure project (NSIP), North Falls must be consented under the Planning Act 2008 development consent process, which was introduced to streamline the decision-making for such projects. The process includes six stages which are shown in the diagram opposite, the first being pre-application.
Applicants, such as North Falls, must go through this six stage process to gain permission to build and operate their NSIP. The permission is called a development consent order (DCO). The Planning Inspectorate is the government agency responsible for examining and making recommendations on applications for NSIPs with the final decision being made by the Secretary of State for the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero.
Environmental impact assessment
The pre-application phase for North Falls will run until the DCO application is finalised and submitted to the Planning Inspectorate. The core of this work has been carrying out an environmental impact assessment (EIA), a systematic and iterative approach to assessing the environmental, social and economic effects the project may have. A baseline has been established via years of onshore and offshore surveys to collect data which has subsequently been analysed to build up a picture of every element from onshore ecology and ornithology to offshore archaeology and fishing activity. Throughout this period there has been ongoing technical design and engineering work to ensure the project is deliverable, as well as two phases of consultation and ongoing stakeholder engagement.
Full details of the environment impact assessment can be found in the PEIR chapter:
North Falls Scoping Report
As the first stage of the EIA, North Falls prepared a scoping report and requested a scoping opinion from the Secretary of State in July 2021. The North Falls Scoping Report outlined what would be considered during the EIA and the proposed data gathering and methodology employed to characterise the existing environment, assess potential impacts and develop mitigation measures. The feedback received from the relevant local planning authorities and statutory consultees resulted in a scoping opinion adopted by the Secretary of State in August 2021.
All documentation related to North Falls, including the Scoping Report and Scoping Opinion can be found on the project page of the Planning Inspectorate website:Visit Planning Inspectorate North Falls project page
North Falls has so far held three rounds of community consultation with the information provided and responses received still available to view online. These were held in parallel to targeted topic-specific activity with statutory stakeholders. Feedback from the consultations has been considered as part of the evolving project proposals. This feedback has influenced a number of key project actions and decisions:
All the project's onshore cables are to be buried
Cables will be installed by drilling beneath Holland Haven Marshes Site of Special Scientific Interest, including Holland Haven Local Nature Reserve and Frinton Golf Club to avoid disturbing the surface
No work will take place in the intertidal zone to limit disruption at the coast
Offshore cable placement and construction will avoid sensitive areas of the seabed
A 3D model has been produced to enable people to visualise the wind farm from key coastal viewpoints
Construction traffic will be routed and timed to avoid school drop off and pick up, and minimise impacts on local community events
A temporary haul road within the construction corridor will minimise the amount of traffic on the local road network
Landscaping will be provided around the onshore substation in consultation with the community
The project will aim to achieve a biodiversity net gain (BNG) following construction
Inclusion of an option to connect to an offshore grid connection, if made available to North Falls by a third party
A land drainage consultant will be engaged to develop pre and post-construction farm drainage plans
Ongoing close cooperation with Five Estuaries to minimise cumulative impacts where possible
In March 2022, the North Falls Statement of Community Consultation was published, setting out the project's approach to consultation including who will be consulted and how.
This third consultation phase provided the opportunity for the public to give the North Falls team useful information and influence the proposals that will be included in the final application.
Full details about North Falls consultation can be found in the PEIR chapter:
Definitions of stakeholder groups
Those directly affected including statutory bodies, the relevant Local Authorities, landowners and others with an interest in the land or who may be affected by the construction and operation of a consented scheme. These groups are sometimes referred to as Section 42 consultees.
The local community, which is defined as those people living or working within a defined distance of the onshore infrastructure or those who may have an interest in the area, for example, local archaeology groups and mariners and the fishing community or other non-statutory groups. These are sometimes referred to as Section 47 consultees.
The general public, or those people beyond the local community who will primarily be reached through national newspaper advertisements and on the project website. These are sometimes referred to as Section 48 consultees.
Targeted activities will be carried out for each group of consultees.
Preliminary Environmental Information Report (PEIR)
After the second phase of consultation, the North Falls Preliminary Environmental Information Report (PEIR) was progressed and formed the subject of our third consultation. This is a technical document covering the full range of every element that has been considered to date, its potential impacts and proposed mitigations. This is in effect a status on the project's EIA process and on the progress of the preparation of the development consent application.
Feedback given on the PEIR is now being used to produce the final document required for the application, the Environmental Statement.
To see a list of all the PEIR documents, and to access both online and PDF versions, please use this link.
North Falls Environmental Statement (ES)
Looking ahead, the North Falls Environmental Statement (ES) will be the final output of the EIA undertaken by the North Falls project team. It will be an evolution of the PEIR presented in this consultation and will incorporate the results of the surveys and assessments, project technical details as well as the outcomes of responses from our consultations.
The ES will also describe any changes made to the project proposals since PEIR and the mitigation measures that will be implemented. It forms a key part of the submitted DCO application, accompanying the final application when it is submitted to the Planning Inspectorate.