Public meeting regarding new East Anglia radar planning application 28 June 2019
Public meeting regarding a planning application for a new East Anglia radar at Old Buckenham 28 June 2019
A weather radar in East Anglia would reduce risk to property and life by improving flood and weather warnings throughout the region and will aid the efficient planning and use of water resources in the region.
A radar network review recommended the addition of a radar in East Anglia to improve network coverage, providing better more detailed observations of rainfall further east than currently possible. This would address a deficiency in coverage and improve the lead-time of warnings for significant weather and flooding, such as the ‘Beast from the East’.
It would particularly help meteorologists deal more confidently with Easterly and North-easterly snow situations that impact East Anglia, as well as summer convective storms, and slow-moving weather systems.
A new radar at this site would also benefit the wider UK. Data obtained from the radar will be integrated into weather prediction models and provide increased resilience for the wider network.
The Met Office, Environment Agency and Anglian Water were pleased to be able to speak to around 60 members of the public, over the course of the day, to answer questions and explain more about the proposed radar.
The questions raised at the public meeting are outlined below.
Why this site?
Building a radar at this site would involve the re-development of an existing brownfield site owned by Anglian Water, rather than a green field site.
A thorough investigation of possible sites across the region considered the benefits, likely costs, impact on the local environment and community and associated risks for each location.
This is the only one of the potential sites that would provide 1km resolution coverage over the whole of Norfolk, right up to the coastline. This is the finest level of detail possible, much like a large scale map. This site also offered the most cost-effective option to the UK taxpayer.
9 of the considered locations were on Anglian Water sites. Why was there was such desire to locate the tower on one of their sites?
We approached several landowners, who owned a number of brownfield sites across the region, where co-locating a radar might fit with their current use of the site, and/or where there was a natural synergy/interest in hosting a radar. These included Anglian Water, Environment Agency and MOD amongst others.
We had to be confident of how the land is likely to be used for the next 25 years, or for the life of the radar. If we considered an industrial site, we would need assurances from multiple owners as to how they all intend to use the site in the future. We would also risk a greater certainty of conflicting development, which could affect the effectiveness of the radar.
In addition, Anglian Water were very keen to have the additional data that the radar will offer and therefore helped with the process of investigating possible sites. However, upon investigation all other suggested Anglian Water sites proved to be unsuitable, had no appropriate spare land available or were already earmarked for other uses.
What would the visual impact of the radar be?
The radar radome would be visible above the tops of trees as it needs to exceed the tree line to be able to collect observations without interference.
A metal lattice tower would be built at the site. This will have a white radome on top (this is a dome that covers the radar) and will reach to a total height of just over 27m or 89ft. There will be a small communications cabin at the base of the staircase, and access stairs forming part of the tower structure.
This compares to the Old Buckenham windmill which is 54ft (without the sails) and The Big Tower Tacolneston Transmitter, which is 147m, 482ft.
The project team understands that local residents have concerns about how the tower would change the view. We have now commissioned a visual impact assessment to better understand this, and the report will suggest available options to reduce the visual impact if applicable e.g. planting of trees as screening.
Will it be the same height as the chicken farm chimney?
The nearby chimney (located off Old Buckenham Road to the east of the proposed radar) is 27.5m high, according to records from the local planning authority (planning ref 2008/0816). This is approximately the same height as is proposed for the radar.
Will there be any noise? Will I be able to hear it?
Radars do make some sound. Whether they can be heard depends on wind conditions and distance. We have conducted an acoustic assessment to ensure likely levels are at a minimum above existing background noise such as the sound of leaves rustling and bird song.
Will it have any effect on health?
Weather Radars do not present a risk to the public, biological habitats or species.
The Met Office contracted Public Health England (PHE) to carry out an assessment of exposure to electromagnetic fields from weather radar to fulfil its duty of care under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. This survey was undertaken at Ingham radar.
The proposed radar would be built using the same technology.
The results of this survey concluded that there are no hazards associated with exposure to microwave signals from the Met Office weather radar at the Ingham site.
Will the radar be manned?
The radar does not require people to operate it. There will just be occasional visits by engineers for routine or reactive maintenance.
Will there be construction traffic?
Yes, there will be construction traffic. When we start construction at the site (which will take approximately 2 weeks) there will be an increase in traffic because we will be having deliveries such as portable toilets, site welfare, fencing to make the safe site before we start work, although these will be one off deliveries. When we are ready to start work one of the first work activities will be to clear the site so again a number of vehicles will be required to carry out this work and remove all waste material. It is proposed to manufacturer the tower off site enabling the tower to be delivered in a number of pieces and then put together on site, likewise the comms building will come via a single delivery as it is pre-fabricted. There will be a number of vehicles needed for the duration of the project, these will be mainly vans/cars for contractors/ engineers and electricians.
What route would construction traffic take through the village?
Any routes for the construction traffic and working hours will be confirmed as part of the planning process.
We understand that the Parish Council may have a preferred construction traffic route, so that traffic going directly through the village centre is avoided.
Will there be lights on the radar and will they be on all night?
There would be lights on the radar that can be switched on for rare cases of maintenance during low light conditions.
There may also be a low intensity red aircraft warning light on the top of the radar. Whether this light is needed and if so needs to remain on all night, will be confirmed as part of the planning process.
Could the tower be made smaller?
The radar would need to reach above the surrounding trees, which grow to around 20m in height, as it needs to be able to take measurements without interference.
It also needs to exceed the height of the crane used by Anglian Water on the site adjacent to the proposed site.
We are revisiting this aspect of the proposal to see if there is anything else we can do to reduce the height of the tower, whilst still receiving clear observations.
Will people be accessing the site at weekends or at night time?
Weekend or night time visits are highly unlikely, apart from in an emergency. An emergency might include the radar needing immediate servicing or repair in the event of approaching severe weather.
Can the radome be made any smaller?
The radome cannot be made any smaller than planned, with a diameter of 5m. It needs to be this size to fit the radar inside.
How would the tower be protected from lightning?
The tower will have its own lightning conductor.
How will the Met Office communicate about the plans going forward?
We will make sure that the Parish Council is kept informed of any changes or developments. They will be able to update the community through the parish council meetings and minutes.
Is this just the start of a wider Met Office development?
No, the Met Office has no intention of developing the site further. The site belongs to Anglian Water and the Met Office would be leasing the land for the radar.
How will the site be secured? Will there be anti-clamber features or anti-vandal paint?
The structure will be fenced and access to the stairs will be bolted.
Could we paint the tower a different colour?
The project team would be open to discussing painting the tower a different colour if it was thought that it would lessen the visual impact of the structure. This would involve some additional expense.
Which were the other short-listed sites?
16 potential sites were assessed.
High Ash Hill
Brandon High Lodge
Soham (water tower)
Newmarket (Warren Hill)
Newmarket (Long Hill)
Why are there no other suitable Anglia Water sites?
In total we looked at 9 Anglian Water sites in the region. The site at Old Buckenham would provide 1km resolution coverage over the whole of Norfolk, right up to the coastline. This is the finest level of detail possible. This site offers the best balance between the benefits of the specific site and anticipated costs and risks.
All further Anglian Water sites were either unsuitable, had no spare land available or were already earmarked for other uses.
Are there other industrial areas we could use to site the radar?
We have worked extensively with other landowners to identify possible sites where we could site a radar. We must be confident of how the land is likely to be used for the next 25 years, or for the life of the radar. If we used an industrial site, we would need assurances from multiple owners as to how they intend to use the site in the future. We would also risk a greater certainty of conflicting development, which could affect the effectiveness of the radar.
Would the Met Office be willing to house a mobile phone transmitter on the radar tower?
This is not something the Met Office has been actively pursuing and we have not been approached by a mobile provider. As the land is owned by Anglian Water, it would need to be approved by them.
Will the radar affect TV, radio or wi-fi?
No, the weather radar operates within a narrow frequency band, which is reserved for weather radars by OFCOM. TV, radio, wifi etc. all operate in areas of the electromagnetic spectrum, reserved specifically for them, and are in a different area of the spectrum from the weather radars.
Will this affect the airfield?
We have talked directly with the airfield management, and are now working with a specialist consulting firm to understand the technical details around the concerns raised by the airfield.
There are several local benefits:
Short-term local forecasts for precipitation will be greatly improved in the area.
The forecasting of snow coming in from across the North Sea will be much more accurate.
The forecasting of high-impact summer storms for the region will be much more accurate.
Valuable information about lightning and wind shear will improve local aviation forecasts that will aid pilots when landing and taking off in the region.
The radar is designed to provide continuous, real-time information.
The Environment Agency will be able to use the data to help predict and issue flood warnings, to help reduce the risk to property and life.
The Met Office will be able to use the data collected to help predict and issue weather warnings, to help reduce the risk to property and life.
Anglian Water will be able to use the data to help maintain balance in the sewage system, ultimately helping to prevent outflow into the ocean and protecting bathing water quality.
Anglian Water will be able to use the information to inform agricultural businesses about the best times to plant, harvest or apply treatments to land.
Flood planners can use the information gathered for managing future risk.
Information from the radar will be used in numerical weather prediction models to help inform longer term forecasts.
The Met Office, with the support of funding from the Environment Agency, has recently completed a project to upgrade all the radars throughout the UK.
Our focus is now on adding additional radars where coverage needs to be improved. This will help us to increase the lead-times of warnings for significant weather and flooding events.
When will it be built if planning permission is given?
Current plans are for work to start in 2020.
How long will it take to build?
Building works, including groundworks and installation of the radar, will take approximately 6 months.
Will the land be made good after the building work?
The Met Office is committed to sustainable development and any flora removed during the building work will be replaced or replanted.
Is it true that, if the radar gets built, the Met Office will be able to veto all further planning applications in the area?
The Planning Direction for England gives Met Office a right to be consulted on planning applications based on maps we submit to local planning authorities outlining when and where we wish to be consulted. However, the Met Office cannot just veto applications. There are provisions where, in the worst case, if a planning authority was going to approve an application against the advice of the Met Office, a Direction under Section 77 of the Town & Country Planning Act could be considered which would effectively request that the application is ‘called in’ for determination by the Secretary of State rather than the planning authority.
Met Office have never used these provisions and our preference is to maintain contact throughout the planning process and to work with a developer to ensure that any concerns can be addressed and overcome where possible.
In this instance, a map will be prepared based on the height of the radar, surrounding topography and distance from the radar tower to identify heights of structures that may be of concern, and as such where we would wish to be consulted if a planning application fell within the identified zones.
However, Met Office are primarily concerned with tall structures such as wind turbines which are at greater risk of causing interference to the radar. Structures below the level of the radar are unlikely to be of concern. As such, more domestic style planning applications are rarely a cause for concern.
What happens if Anglian Water sell the site?
Anglian Water has confirmed that it has a long-term commitment to this site. However, should the site ever be sold, provisions are being agreed to ensure the radar can continue to occupy and operate from the site.
Is the Met Office offering any ‘benefits in kind’ to the local community?
The Met Office has long experience and a great reputation for engaging with schools and colleges on STEM activities. We would be delighted to work with the young people of Old Buckenham and the surrounding area in a similar way.
As the radar would be financed by public money, we cannot offer to fund local amenities (e.g. by providing a children’s playground) in the same way that a private developer might.
Why didn’t I get a leaflet telling me about the meeting?
We paid for a distribution of leaflets to the following postcodes NR16 1, NR16 2, NR17 1, NR17 2. We understand that some people did not receive a leaflet and are following this up with the distributors. We would welcome any information from individuals who did not receive a leaflet, so that we can follow this up.
Contact details and further information
For more information or specific queries, please contact EastAngliaRadar@metoffice.gov.uk
Q&A's updated 26 July 2019