East Anglia radar planning application Q&As

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.

We have outlined a series of questions and answers 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 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 has confirmed that the proposed site does not provide a particularly valuable foraging resource or provide suitable roosting sites, so has no significant attractions for Barbestrelle bats. Barbastelle are typically woodland bats, widespread and relatively common within Norfolk, and might only use this location for occasional foraging.

At the planning committee in May, concerns were raised about the potential impact on biodiversity due to reports that barbastelle bats are present in the surrounding area. 

In line with planning requirements, the Met Office had already submitted an ecology report as part of its planning application. The report 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. Nevertheless, to ensure that the impact on the bat population was fully considered and evidenced, as part of the appeal process, we commissioned a bat survey 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’.   The full report, including dates and methodology has been submitted as part of our planning appeal, and we understand that it will be available in the public domain in due course.

Will there be any noise?  

A weather radar rotates at a maximum speed of 4 revolutions per minute , so whilst it does make some sound it is fundamentally not noisy.

Environmental Health impose a strict 3dB noise limit on the Anglian Water site where the radar would be. We are confident the radar will comply, based on background noise readings taken at the site and detailed readings taken at an identical radar.  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?

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? 
Historic England have assessed the application and judged that the visual impact of the radar installation would be in the lower range of ‘less than substantial harm’.

 

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 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 would 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 would not be lit overnight and would 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 reduces 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 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.  Note: There is a requirement for the radome to be white and so this section cannot be painted a different colour.

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

https://www.metoffice.gov.uk/research/weather/observations-research/weather-radar-network-renewal

How long will it take to build?

Building works, including groundworks and installation of the radar, will take approximately 6-8 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 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 gives 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.  

https://www.metoffice.gov.uk/services/business-industry/energy/safeguarding

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 although at no time would this include a site visit.

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.

Will you appeal against the planning refusal?

Having considered the options available to us, we still hold the view that a weather radar in East Anglia is essential to the wellbeing of people throughout the region and further afield, providing improved severe weather and flood warnings that will protect lives and property, and that the Old Buckenham site is the best location for that weather radar.

A rigorous selection process identified the proposed brownfield site near Old Buckenham, on land owned by Anglian Water, as the best site for the radar, considering multiple factors, including technical aspects, such as quality of coverage, as well as financial and environmental considerations.

As such a planning appeal has been submitted to HM Planning Inspectorate.

Contact details and further information 

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