It is very clear to me from the public meetings that I have attended over the last month that Helius are fully committed to pushing ahead with their plans for an unwanted, giant power station next to homes in Freemantle and Millbrook. City Councillors have been vocal in their opposition to this scheme but sadly we do not have the power locally to stop it, as Southampton City Council will not be the decision maker.
Councillors have backed the idea of a referendum on the issue, to be held on November 15th. I am quite sure that this public vote will voice an overwhelming ‘No’ to Helius’ scheme. Residents have already gathered a 3,500 name petition and after the vote Helius will be in no doubt about what people think.
The referendum is due to be held at the same time as election day for the new Police and Crime Commissioner for Hampshire and so it was hoped that the costs for the vote would be tiny. Rather alarmingly we are now being told that it could cost the taxpayer £45,000 and I have expressed my concerns that this is lot of money. That said if it helps stop this dreadful monstrosity wrecking the local community that I was elected to represent then it has my full support.
In the end though, if Helius do push ahead with a formal application for their power station, the decision will be taken based on matters of planning law and public policy. I am certain that Helius will have expensive experts arguing their case and will be pumping money into ensuring that they get their scheme approved. Local residents have done an amazing job in taking the fight to Helius, harnessing local opposition and making some really powerful arguments about why this power station is ‘too big, too close and not green.’ However as Councillors, if we want to stop Helius, we need to ensure that we give residents more than just warm words of encouragement and back them properly and put the skills and resources of the City Council, a half a billion pound a year organisation, full square behind them.
At the last Full Council meeting I proposed that the Council set aside provisions in its budget to hire a top planning barrister to argue the case of local people and to ensure the residents have the resources to take on Helius on a level playing field. This is precisely what councils around the country do when they are serious about winning in situation like this. I was very disappointed that I didn’t secure these funds at the meeting. It was a real missed opportunity, especially as Paul Brighton, Helius Energy’s Planning Director, was sat in the public gallery listening to the Council debate. It would have ensured that residents were supported with the funds they need and it would have sent a very strong message to Helius that they have a huge fight on their hands in
Southampton. I am going to keep pushing for the support of the Council Administration on this issue. Speaking to other Councillors after the meeting I was reassured that they understood how important this issue is and how this decision will be critical in deciding whether or not we can stop Helius’ scheme.