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Southampton residents to get vote on biomass plant
Southampton residents will be given a vote on whether a £300m power plant should be built at Southampton docks, the Daily Echo can reveal.
Labour councillors are drawing up plans for a “preferendum” on the plans for a 100-megawatt wood fired energy station.
They hope a resounding “no” vote, whilst not legally binding, would be an influential consideration for decision-makers when the developer Helius Energy submits its plans.
Tens of thousands of residents living near the proposed site of the power plant in Millbrook would be invited to cast a ballot.
Council leader Richard Williams said the referendum was part of an election pledge to do more to “engage and enthuse” the electorate in local democracy.
He said: “Because it’s a very hot topic and there is a lot of interest in it locally it would give the opportunity for people to comment on that particular proposal.
He said an opportunity to conduct the referendum could be in November when polling stations would already be manned for police commissioners elections. Staging the referendum then would not cost much extra cash and be technically possible, said Cllr Williams.
He added: “When you do petitions you don’t get everybody to comment. This way we hope we get a lot more ‘buy in’ to local democracy but also to actually get people’s real opinions in the community on that issue.”
Cllr Williams said there could be other questions put to the electorate at the same time.
He said, depending on approval from council lawyers, it could be the first local referendum on its kind in the country to be held under the new Localism Act agenda.
Helius held the last of five public exhibitions on revised plans for the plant at the TA Centre in Millbrook yesterday.
Campaigners against the proposed power plans took to the streets to march in protest too.
Councillors across all parties have already voted to oppose the plans. Campaigners submitted a 3,600 signature against the original scheme last April.
Millbrook ward councillor David Furnell will next Wednesday move a motion paving the way for a public vote.
He will urge fellow councillors to agree to “undertake a referendum amongst those immediately affected in the Freemantle and Millbrook wards as soon as is practicably possible in order to influence the final decision of the secretary of state and with minimal use of scarce council resources.”
Labour will also next week approve £5,000 in a mini-budget to pay for the referendum alongside the election for a new Hampshire Police Commissioner in November.
Helius has said it expects to submit a planning application to the planning inspectorate in the autumn. The final decision will rest with the secretary of state.
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 argues 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 125m away from the nearest homes in Millbrook.
The proposed site has now been moved back a further 125m nearer to the water next to the King George V Dry Dock, and many of the buildings have been reduced in height, although a chimney stack will still rise up to 100m.
Architects have put forward three different themed designs – marine, wave, and hi-tech – for residents to have their say on. Many still remain opposed citing concerns over noise, traffic and pollution as well as the appearance of the plant.
Helius’ 12-week public consultation ends on August 3.
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