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Southampton biomass referendum may cost nine times more than thought
PLANS for a local referendum over a controversial £300m power plant in Southampton may cost nine times more than first thought.
As first revealed in the Daily Echo, ruling Labour councillors want to give tens of thousands of residents living near the proposed site of the 100-megawatt wood-fired energy station in Millbrook a chance to cast a vote on it.
Labour had earmarked £5,000 for the “preferendum” to be held alongside the elections for a new Hampshire Police Commissioner in November.
But they have been told by council lawyers that under existing laws the authority would have to set up separate polling stations in Freemantle and Millbrook, costing around £45,000.
Council leader Richard Williams said it remained his “intention” for the preferendum to go ahead, but would lobby ministers to remove any legal hurdles that would require it to be held separately. “The in principle commitment is still there,” he said.
Millbrook ward councillor David Furnell moved a motion paving the way for the poll, which was backed by all parties.
Tories also called for £75,000 for a fighting fund to hire a top lawyer to put the case against the development, largely opposed by local residents.
Although not legally binding, the results of the local vote could be an influential consideration for decision-makers when the developer Helius Energy submits its plans in the autumn.
A Tory call for a referendum on Oaklands pool in the spirit of local democracy was rejected by Labour.
Councillors across all parties have previously voted to oppose Helius’ plans. Campaigners submitted a 3,600-signature petition against the original scheme last April.
The power plant would burn up to 800,000 tonnes of wood, largely shipped in through the docks, to generate enough electricity to power 200,000 homes.
Helius said the plant will cut carbon emissions and help tackle climate change while creating 450 construction jobs, and 100 more once operating.
The developer went back to the drawing board after angry protests last year at the prospect of a “monstrous” power station being built just 125 metres from the nearest homes in Millbrook.
The proposed site has now been moved a further 125 metres away from the homes, nearer to the King George V Dry Dock, and many of the buildings have been reduced in height. A chimney stack will still rise up 100 metres high.