Fears fire at planned battery plant would pose 'huge risk' to wildlife park and cause environmental disaster

A flock of Wigeon birds at Slimbridge
-Credit: (Image: Richard Taylor Jones)

Controversial plans for a battery storage power station in Gloucestershire have been given the go-ahead despite serious concerns it could lead to an environmental disaster. Relay Slimbridge Limited has been granted permission to install a 36 megawatt battery storage facility along with a 132kV transformer on land north east of Kingston Road in Slimbridge.

The site measures around 8.6 acres and the development itself wiill cover just under two acres of land in the corner of the site. Access will be from an existing field access which leads onto Kingston Road.

Ward Councillor Lindsey Green (C, Berkeley Vale) spoke against the plans at Stroud District Council's development control committee on July 9. She called on councillors to reject the scheme which she believes amounts to industrialisation of the open countryside.

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She said there were many reasons why the battery storage plant should not be in that location. “These small roads already have a significant amount of traffic going along them,” she said.

“Access to the site is precarious. We have Wetlands Slimbridge within a very short distance of the site and they alone are a world renowned tourist attraction that can host up to 2,600 visitors in a day.

"Add that to the 120 pitch caravan park that could potentially have 500 to 800 people at any one time, the Tudor Arms pub and the Black Shed, each hosting 100 or 200 people, if not more a day each.”

She said that part of Slimbridge could have 3,500 people at any one time. Her first reason for refusal was on safety grounds. “We all know lithium-ion batteries can be extremely volatile, you will have read the chief fire officers report and how they have concerns with this development. Due to the lack of knowledge in how to deal with this site should they experience a fire.”

Gary Haseley-Nejrup, spoke on behalf of the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust against the battery unit. He said their main concerns are the potential risks to the designated features of the upper Severn Estuary site and the safety to staff visitors and volunteers.

“The unit as approved already poses a significant fire risk and this application will make those risks greater." He said a fire at the site could lead to toxic fumes coming from the site for long period of time. And that the proposals posed an unacceptable risk

Councillor Charlie Tuffin also raised concerns over flooding on the site.
Councillor Charlie Tuffin also raised concerns over flooding on the site. -Credit:SDC/Relay Slimbridge Limited

“It remains unclear how we would be able to evacuate up to 2,500 visitors and staff from the centre in the event of such a fire or the resultant cloud of toxic fumes."

Councillor Charlie Tuffin (C, Berkeley Vale) also raised concerns over flooding on the site. “You’ve got a massive electrical storage site which sits underwater,” he said.

“I farm in the immediate vicinity and I know that in the winter all these fields lie under water and that’s in a normal year.”

Mike Stayte, of Slimbridge Parish Council, also spoke against the scheme. He said he has lived in the district all his life and while he believes renewable energy is needed he felt the committee was being misled.

“By being asked to put an industrial scale operation in the middle of unspoilt countryside,” he said. “There’s no logical reason to put the storage unit on a greenfield site down a country lane in an established village."

Joe Bennett of RCA Regeneration Ltd, the applicant’s agent, called on the committee to approve the scheme. He said a previous application for the site was granted for the site and the principle for such a development was firmly established.

Extensive hedgerow and tree planting would ensure any visual impacts are mitigated, he said. And the proposal is supported by a robust ecological report and five months of bird surveys were carried out there.

Joe Bennett of RCA Regeneration Ltd, the applicant’s agent, said extensive hedgerow and tree planting would ensure any visual impacts are mitigated
Joe Bennett of RCA Regeneration Ltd, the applicant’s agent, said extensive hedgerow and tree planting would ensure any visual impacts are mitigated -Credit:SDC/Relay Slimbridge Limited

“The transformer is an integral part of the scheme and will therefore be removed from the site along with the rest of the development at the end of the 40 year period.”

Mr Bennett said a fire evacuation plan would be drawn up and agreed with the fire service and are keen to consult with residents. “There have been a hundred of these installations in the UK over the last 18 years and just one incident," he said.

“That led to no injury, no property damage, no environmental impact and no toxic gas. These are not ebike batteries.”

He said there would be no overhead lines and cabling would be underground. Councillor David Drew (L, Stroud Central) said he was minded to accept the proposals as the precedent was already set.

He said he was not convinced why it had “leapt” to a much bigger facility. “As long as the safety concerns are paramount, we have to find these sites,” he said.

“If we were here in the 1950s we would be talking about the threat of nuclear power. Some of you may see it as an ongoing threat

“We have lived with Berkeley power station for over 70 years now. I think we’ve got to get real with a dispersed grid system. This is what we are going to have to face.”

The committee voted to approve the plans by ten votes in favour with two abstentions.