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Substation plans threaten protected woodland area

University has received criticism for plans to cut down local trees to extend gas generator

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Image Credit: Annie Watson

THE UNIVERSITY recently received criticism from a local councillor over plans to build a sub station which could potentially affect local woodland. The substation, an extension of a current gas generator that powers the University, is due to be built next to Windmill Lane, raising concerns about the woodland it will be built on.

In particular there is concern that the University will fell trees which play an important role in the local woodland. These include trees of oak,pine and sycamore and several trees in the Tree Protection Order.
The Arboricultural survey that has examined the site refers to 25 trees that are currently on the land. Protected trees cannot be taken down lawfully without the permission of the local council and it is important that young healthy trees are protected where possible. Consequently, the University’s application for this site is still pending but has already received criticism from the locals who will potentially see their local footpath affected. Questions have been raised as to which specific trees will actually be cut down and which will be retained.

During the planning application,the University has also been asked why the subsite needs to be built on this piece of woodland, as opposed to Campus West or East.
The University commented on this in a statement to Nouse,stating that: “The substation is an existing facility built on this site over 50 years ago.Part of the installation now needs to be replaced. As a key part of Northern Powergrid’s infrastructure, this sub-station has many large underground cables connecting to other substations across the city and beyond. To relocate the substation would require these cables to be dug up and rerouted to a new location,many of these cables run through the protected woodland.”

The University is due to see an increased demand in heating and electricity over the next 2 years, which could further increase when considering the introduction of a new Campus East college and the influx of students over the coming academic year. To address this increase, the University plans to build a 2MW gas-fired combined heat and power plant on Campus East and a 10MW electricity supply from Northern Power Grid. These extra power sources will serve the University’s energy requirements in the long term but the new substation on Windmill Lane will help to facilitate this new energy supply.

Whilst the types of power sources being implemented by the University are regarded as highly efficient,it is debatable as to whether the new substation will contribute to the University’s overall sustainability aims. In November 2019, Nouse raised concerns about the impact the construction of the new Campus East colleges would have on the wildlife in Heslington Lake and construction of the sub-station on Windmill Lane could raise similar problems for the local woodland. Despite these constructions, the University has been clear in its aim to promote sustainability and even attempted to plant 1,000 trees during One Planet Week.

During that week in February, University Vice-Chancellor Professor Charlie Jeffery said: “One of the key tenets of my vision for the University is for sustainability to be part of everything we do, now and in the future. As a society and as a university we need to be bold, and move as quickly as we can to a zero carbon future.”

YUSU’s Environments and Ethics Officer Charlotte Ingrey has told Nouse that “As the article states, the protected trees cannot be removed legally whilst there is opposition from the local council and the status of the application is currently pending. However, this does not mean we will become complacent and we will endeavour to contact the opposing local councillor to discuss potential further action. If necessary, we will also remind the University and it’s staff of the commitment they have made to sustainability and discuss any contra-dictory actions that may ensue.”

In response to this, a representative from the University told Nouse:“We have commissioned a landscape and ecology specialist to survey the area and advise how disruption can be minimised and ensure protection measures are taken to avoid damage to the surrounding woodland. The University will look to offset the loss of any trees with additional planting elsewhere.“
"As soon as the University became aware that part of the substation needed to be replaced we began to consult with the Council and its conservation officer about the necessary works. The University is also working closely with Northern Powergrid to ensure their works minimise any impact on trees in the protected area.”

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