The two main organisations we have to deal with are the Environment Agency, because it manages the Thames, and the District Council, because it decides on planning permission. Also it owns the land we want to use. However there are several departments within those organisations.
The EA licence: the big one!
The EA can make or break the project, so the first step is a licence from them.
They are a particular challenge because the EA is a maze of different departments which can even have conflicting interests. They see their job as balancing the conflicting interests of the various river users, hydro power being a new one on top of the previous ones. They have been coping with budget cuts, frequent reorganisations and staff changes, and Government wanting to move them to a system in which those who benefit from their services pay for them. They have also received an unfair share of the blame for the 2014 floods, when in fact flood defences have been improving. We are greatly indebted to Brendan Barrow, who knows his way round the system and how to present our case. He is particularly helpful to community groups, because he knows that the early stages can be the most difficult.
The application goes to a number of specialists within the EA – flood control, navigation, fish, biodiversity, etc - for comment, then a determining officer works out the terms of the licence. It sets out the conditions under which we can operate. The EA licence is on the PDFs page.
There are conditions in the licence that we would like changed, in particular the hands off level condition. We have an assurance that it can be done by a local operating agreement, but it will take time.
Then we move on to planning permission. At least this is a well established process (well, relatively). It requires about 30 statements about different aspects of the project. Architects are familiar with the planning system, so they did some preliminary checking with the people who have to give their approval. However for the first application we did not give enough detail about the civil engineering - what land the contractors would use, how they would handle access and rights of way, etc. So we withdrew the application and paid an engineering consultancy to work it out before reapplying.
The supporting statements and drawings, and the planning consent, are on the PDFs page. The planners probably saw it as a radical proposal from a bunch of amateurs, so it was pleasing that the planning committee approved our application unanimously.
The Vale owns the land, and when people use their land they are required to get "best value" from it. This is a difficult one for the council officer responsible - how do you decide what is an appropriate rent? The land is earning nothing at present, and who else would want to rent it? Any money that goes to the Vale as rent is money that will not go into the community share. You could argue that we are enhancing Abbey Meadow so they should pay us! They have their rules, but they are on our side so we will get there.
The electrical connection
There is more about this on the Grid cnnection page. It is not a big planning issue because the cable is buried. It crosses District Council land and County Council land, so we need their permission. The network operator, Scottish & Southern, provide a meter unit that we connect to, and they have provided a quotation for it. When we pay, it secures the feed in tariff that we get from Ofgem.
The fish pass
We have not finished with the EA! For historical reasons fish are an important part of the EA's work, and anglers have a strong lobby within it. There is a Fish Pass Panel that has to approve the design of the fish pass. The design that went into the planning application turned out to be very difficult to fit in the space available and too expensive, so it is going through a redesign before the application.