East Anglia radar planning application and approval Q&As

A weather radar in East Anglia will 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 will 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 will 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 will 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.

We have outlined a series of questions and answers below.

When will building of the radar start taking place?

Now that planning permission has been approved, there are several steps that we need to go through before building work starts onsite.

First actions will include working with the Environment Agency and Anglian Water to finalise our build specification and plans, and to formalise our lease. We will also be finalising plans with utility providers for the work that will need to be completed to prepare the site.

We will then tender for the main works contracts.

How long will it take to complete?

Before construction work commences there will be a period of finalising plans and contracting for the main works and support utilities. This will take around 6 months.

The construction phase is then expected to take a further 6 months from when we start to develop the site. The radar will then run through a commissioning phase, which can last up to a year, to ensure that the quality of the data and reliability of the radar reach the high standards expected from one of our operational radars.

Will there be disruption caused by lorries to the site?

There will be construction traffic, but we have extensive plans to keep its impact to a minimum.

Routes for the construction traffic as well as working hours, will be confirmed as part of the planning process. We will liaise with the Parish Council as we understand that they have a preferred construction traffic route, so that traffic going directly through the village centre is avoided.

In the 2 weeks prior to construction starting at the site, there will be an increase in traffic relating to deliveries such as portable toilets, staff portacabin, and fencing to make the site safe. This will also need to be removed at the end of the construction period. A number of vehicles will also be required to clear the site and remove all waste material.

We propose to manufacturer the radar tower and associated communications building off-site, and then deliver separate smaller pieces that can be put together on site.

Will screening be put in place to hide the radar?

There are no plans or planning requirements to plant screening directly around the radar within the Anglian Water site.

However, we will continue to work with the nearest property owners to look at possible screening options that will help allay their concerns relating to visual impact.

Who decides where radars are needed?
The Environment Agency commissioned the Met Office to carry out a review of the whole UK weather radar network in 2011. This recommended the addition of a radar in East Anglia to improve network coverage and provide better observations of rainfall further east than is currently possible. This would improve the forecasting accuracy of severe weather in the region and allow the Environment Agency to give earlier warnings for preventative flood protection measures.

Why this site?

Building a radar at this site will involve the redevelopment 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 can 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 offers the most cost-effective option to the UK taxpayer.

9 of the considered locations were on Anglian Water sites. Why was there 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 have needed assurances from multiple owners as to how they all intended to use the site in the future. We would also have risked a greater certainty of conflicting development impacting the effectiveness of the radar.

In addition, Anglian Water were very keen to have the additional data 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 will the visual impact of the radar be?

The radar radome will 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 will 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 approximately 24.46 m. 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 16.46m, 54ft (without the sails) and The Big Tower Tacolneston Transmitter, which is 147m, 482ft. 

Will Barbastelle bats be impacted?

An independent Norfolk-based ecology organisation confirmed that the proposed site does not provide a particularly valuable foraging resource or provide suitable roosting sites, so has no significant attractions for Barbastelle bats. Barbastelle are typically woodland bats, widespread and relatively common within Norfolk, and might only use this location for occasional foraging.

The Met Office ecology report, submitted as part of the planning application was reviewed by the Norfolk County Ecologist who concluded that it was fit for purpose and that there was no issue to address with endangered bat species.

To ensure that the impact on the bat population was fully considered and evidenced, a further bat survey was commissioned to take place at the proposed site through the main bat activity season in May and June, to fully record and assess activity levels. This confirmed that no Barbastelle activity was registered. In addition, the low number of total bat registrations over the course of the survey periods led Wild Frontier Ecology to downgrade their assessment of the potential impact on foraging bats from ‘minor negative’ to ‘negligible’. 

Will there be any noise?  

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. Whether they can be heard depends on wind conditions and distance. As per the Planning Inspectorate conditions, we are confident that the radar will comply with a noise restriction of no more than +5dB to ensure that impacts will be kept to a minimum.

Will it have any effect on health?

Concerns have been expressed about possible risks to health from radar generated electromagnetic fields. Weather Radars do not present a risk to the public, biological habitats or species.  

The radar has a well-focussed beam to detect rain in the atmosphere so is directed above the land surface, buildings and vegetation and does not transmit below the horizontal level. Effects below the horizontal would be minute, as verified by Public Health England both theoretically and by taking readings at an identical radar at Ingham.

Will it impact historic buildings and landscapes? 

The visual impact of the radar installation was assessed by Historic England to be in the lower range of ‘less than substantial harm’.

The Planning Inspectorate Appeal Decision noted that because of the height of the proposed development there would be a measure of change to the wider setting of nearby heritage assets. However, given the distances involved between these historic buildings and the radar site, together with intervening vegetation, the radar will not appear prominent within the wider setting.

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 higher than the height of the proposed  radar.

Will there be lights on the radar and will they be on all night?

There will be lights on the radar that can be switched on for rare cases of maintenance during low light conditions.

An aviation warning light is required for aviation. The airfield only operates during the day, so the aviation warning light will not be lit overnight and will be positioned in the least visible position, thus minimising light pollution from the radar.

Could the tower be made smaller?

The radar needs to reach above the surrounding trees, which grow to around 20m in height, as it needs to be able to take measurements without interference. Following consultation, and by working closely with Anglian Water, we have managed to develop a solution that keeps the height to 24.46m whilst mainitaining the collection of high quality data and allows Anglian Water to operate effectively at the site.

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.

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 people be accessing the site at weekends or at night time?

Experience at other sites has shown us that weekend or night time visits are exceptionally rare as they are only made in an emergency. An emergency might include the radar needing immediate servicing or repair in the event of approaching severe weather.

How would the tower be protected from lightning?

The tower will have its own lightning conductor system.

How will the Met Office communicate about the plans going forward?

We will keep the Parish Council informed as the development progresses. 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 a portion of the land just large enough 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.

Which were the other short-listed sites?

16 potential sites were assessed. Marham, Wattisham, Lakenheath, Honington, Mildenhall,  Neatishead, Old Buckenham, Stoke Ferry, High Ash Hill,  Brandon High Lodge, Riddlesworth, Soham (water tower), Newmarket (Warren Hill),  Newmarket (Long Hill), Saxham Hall, Sparhamhill.

Do other radars have properties as close to them? 

Many radar sites have a number of settlements within 500m to 1,000m.  Radar sites are normally in elevated locations to ensure maximum coverage and so by their very nature they are often in more isolated areas. However, there are residential properties within 300m of five of our weather radars, two of which have properties within 180m.

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 have used to site the radar?

We worked extensively with other landowners to identify possible sites where we could have sited a radar. We had to be confident of how the land wass likely to be used for the next 25 years, or for the life of the radar. If we had used an industrial site, we would have needed assurances from multiple owners as to how they intended to use the site in the future. We would also have risked a greater certainty of conflicting development.

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 worked closely with Old Buckenham Airfield to address concerns relating to the original planning proposal. The radar height was reduced by 4m to below the safety zone. This is almost 15% lower than the original plan, the lowest height the radar can be, yet still maintain effective operationWe talked directly with the airfield management to address any concerns they had.

What are the benefits?

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 better 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.

Why now?

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.


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. Given that the site is a brownfield area just large enough to house the radar, this will be minimal. 

As outlined in the Ecological Management Plan submitted for planning approval, the planting of climbing plants on the proposed boundary fencing of the radar site to encourage pollinating insects, the enhancement of an existing pond to attract transitory small mammals and the installation of a number of bird nesting boxes will all be undertaken to encourage biodiversity.

Is it true that that if the radar gets built, the Met Office will be able to veto all further planning applications in the area?

The Met Office is primarily concerned with tall structures such as wind turbines, which are at 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.  

The Planning Direction for England does give the 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.  


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? 

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.


Contact details and further information 

For more information or specific queries, please contact [email protected]