A PROPOSAL for a 60MW battery storage facility at Chickerell has been turned down by Dorset Council.

The unanimous decision, on safety grounds, could have implications for an application for a larger scheme of more than six times the size in the same area.

Councillors took around three hours to decide that the smaller site, south of Coldharbour, presented too big a risk if the facility and its lithium batteries ever caught fire.

One of the ward councillors, Jean Dunseith, told the planning committee that residents in Chickerell and Southill were “worried and frightened” by the proposals.

“The health and safety of residents is material in our planning consideration…. Were this , or some of the batteries to go on fire, it could not be extinguished by water. You can’t put it out like that – it has to burn itself out… with the run-off from contaminated water and a toxic cloud from smoke and fumes and dangerous gases being released over almost all of Chickerell and Southill and depending on the winds, over the whole of wider Weymouth,” she said.

In that eventuality hundreds of thousands of litres of water might be needed to control the blaze – with the resulting polluted water possibly entering water courses, even reaching the sea. There would also be a risk to the population of Chickerell and Southill from toxic fumes, spreading to the wider Weymouth area, depending on the wind direction.

Councillors were unhappy about a single track access to the site and said they doubted if an adequate water supply could reach the site in time for fire-fighting, although plans were in place for 250,000 litres of water in five tanks to be stored on the site.

Opponents accused council officers of being overly accepting of the developers claims about the risks and the potential consequences, arguing that, statistically there would be at least one fire over the 40-year life of the battery facility – which could be catastrophic, in the worst scenario, for the local population.

Some opponents, including Dr John Fannon from Buckland Ripers, said that figures, provided by the company, for how beneficial the facility would be to the National Grid to store and release energy at key times, were also over-egged and presented as being a benefit to local people although, in reality, the energy would go into the Grid for use anywhere in the country where there was a demand. Councillors were also told no account had been taken of the amount of energy which would be ‘lost’ in transferring electricity to and from the grid.

Questions had also been asked about the distance between each of the battery units – suggested at 3metres, rather than a recommended 6metres, which helps reduce the risk of a fire in one unit from spreading.

Dorset Council planning officers had argued that the facility is in the national interest and would make a significant contribution to climate change, so ought to be approved.

They claimed the development would be low-lying, just 3.5metres tall, was relatively small and would be screened by existing trees and shrubs and added landscaping, overall offering a net gain in biodiversity.

The plot, of just under a hectare, between Chickerell and Southill, would have been sited 500 metres south of Coldharbour, close to the Chickerell electric substation and nearby power lines.

The proposal is one of two battery storage facilities being proposed in the area – the other is for a 400MW scheme to the west of the site which has been under consideration since August 2023, but is still not decided.

The Chickerell Action Group and Weymouth Civic Society had maintained objections to the site, warning of the risks of fire, impact on the landscape, and potential water supply pollution.

They also questioned the need for the facility, saying the location is inappropriate with homes and schools nearby; questions the safety of battery storage facilities in general and warned of the air and water pollution which might arise if there were to be a fire.

There had been more than 60 public comments on the proposal, almost all against, with none in support.

Illustrations – Site location Site layout Pic - The site as viewed from local rights of way.

Pic - Dr John Fannon  (left) from Buckland Ripers and other opponents