How the Battle of Sutton Bridge was won

Chalk Lane resident Kevin Wheeler (left) and parish councillor Vicky Hills, dressed as an undertaker, helped carry a coffin as protesters made their point at the council offices in Spalding in July. SG230714-114TW
Chalk Lane resident Kevin Wheeler (left) and parish councillor Vicky Hills, dressed as an undertaker, helped carry a coffin as protesters made their point at the council offices in Spalding in July. SG230714-114TW
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She walks with a stick, stands 4ft six-and-a-half inches tall and is the least likely giant killer you could ever imagine.

Great-granny Shirley Giles (75) made a stately progress across a few feet of carpet at the council chamber in Spalding before delivering a measured, dignified speech to the councillors she humbled in the High Court.

Shirley Giles who fought the council in the High Court and won.

Shirley Giles who fought the council in the High Court and won.

“It is a sad day when someone has to take legal action to prove that an authority got it wrong,” she said.

It’s taken six long years for Sutton Bridge to fight off a gasifier – dubbed an incinerator or cancinerator by opponents – and it was retired businesswoman Shirley who dealt the killer blow.

Last May, Shirley used her own cash to overturn the consent issued by South Holland’s planners in 2013.

The Achilles’ heel was a key issue on sustainability. The consent blunder cost South Holland’s council taxpayers £10,500 but Shirley – and fellow protesters – said it showed they had been right all along: the council hadn’t asked the applicant for all of the information it needed to make a sound verdict.

The decision to refuse the application will probably put £30,000 to £40,000 back on the value of our house because that’s what we were told we would lose.

Stephanie Wheeler

Last week, the planning committee did an about turn – refusing the application – after EnergyPark Sutton Bridge failed to supply answers to key questions, such as the sustainability of the fuel source, or undertake further detailed assessments on the cumulative visual impact of three power stations in one village, the cumulative impact on air quality and the potential impact of emissions on The Wash.

EnergyPark Sutton Bridge has six months in which to appeal – and a year in which to resubmit the project – but so far the developer has declined to comment on its next steps.

Shirley’s legal team is waiting in the wings, yet the pensioner is convinced EnergyPark Sutton Bridge won’t be coming back.

She said: “There’s too much involved for them to come back and it will be too costly.

“They would have to do the environmental impact assessment and all sorts of things now which they should have done in the first place.”

The campaign has extended right across the community and last July more than 60 cars, trucks and motorbikes took part in a noisy cavalcade through the village streets and around an A17 roundabout at the foot of Cross Keys Bridge.

Campaigners wearing protective masks took a coffin to the council offices in Spalding that month to highlight their fears about pollution from the threatened 17 chimneys in their midst – 12 of them belonging to the proposed gasifier, a virgin wood and waste wood burning plant producing electricity.

More than a dozen public meetings have been held in the village, there were two parish polls and a new body, The Wash and Sutton Bridge Protection Group (WSBPG), was set up.

It was “middle England” rising up and speaking out with the support of their MP, John Hayes, neighbouring parish councils and King’s Lynn Borough Council.

Parish and former district councillor Jenny Rowe, one of the campaigners, believes the fight is over.

She said: “If they ever do put in another application, we will be there waiting.

“We are not having that type of industry on Wingland at all. The people have spoken.”

Retired teacher and WSBPG member Janet Blundell said: “Local people often feel there is nothing they can do to change things. If enough people act together then decisions can be overturned but it takes a united community.”

Mr Hayes recently said: “The people of Sutton Bridge – and I think all of the residents of South Holland – owe Shirley an immense debt of gratitude.”

Wingland couple Kevin and Stephanie Wheeler thought they had retired to the peace and quiet of the countryside when they moved to Chalk Lane a little over four years ago.

But soon they found a gasifier was due to be built almost on their doorstep – some 300m away from their kitchen window – and they joined the fight to derail the plan.

Kevin rode the lead motorbike in the village cavalcade and helped carry a coffin in a protest at the council chamber in Spalding.

Stephanie said: “The decision to refuse the application will probably put £30,000 to £40,000 back on the value of our house because that’s what we were told we would lose. The gasifier could raise its ugly head again but let’s hope it doesn’t.”