Towns and villages across rural parts of Norfolk and Suffolk have been urged to wake up to the looming threat of “monstrous electricity pylons” driven by offshore windfarm development.
At a packed meeting of community representatives in Ditchingham, near Bungay, Suffolk County Council officers said National Grid’s plans for 90 new pylons in the south of the county, across scenic Constable Country, could be just the tip of the iceberg.
They said National Grid had confirmed it was poised to start feasibility studies on how power could be brought ashore at Lowestoft from the huge East Anglia Array windfarm being planned, and connected to the grid at some point along high-voltage lines running from Norwich to Bramford in Suffolk.
This raised the spectre of pylons spoiling countryside along a corridor towards Diss, possibly impacting on the Broads along the picturesque Waveney Valley.
Ironically, news of the threat of giant pylons has broken in the same week that UK Power Networks has unveiled a £1.5m scheme to bury smaller cables underground in the Waveney Valley and take down unsightly wooden poles that carry electricity from sub-stations to homes and businesses.
Guy McGregor, Suffolk council’s portfolio holder for roads, transport and planning, who chaired the meeting emotively called Pylons in your Parish, said: “I don’t think the penny has dropped in Norfolk yet but we are fully aware of the issues in Suffolk because of National Grid’s plans for pylons from Bramford to Twinstead across the Stour Valley and Dedham Vale.
“Campaigners there feel they started too late and we want people to be on the front foot this time.”
He said his authority would be steadfastly opposing more pylons which represented old-fashioned technology and were simply not the way forward.
Urging councillors in Norfolk to join them in creating a powerful lobby to government, he said underground cables were perfectly feasible – while National Grid stated they cost at least 12 times as much as overhead lines, taking the whole life costs into account reduced that to less than four times the price. It also had to be considered that the detrimental value to the economy of each pylon had been calculated at £3m.
He added that technology even existed to run cables from the offshore windfarm down to Tilbury in Essex under the sea.
Mr McGregor said: “We live in a democracy and provided we put up rational arguments showing there is a better way we can stop this.
“There are alternatives and we are not going to see our fabulous countryside spoiled by monstrous pylons.”
He said county council officers had agreed to meet representatives of Great Yarmouth, Broadland and South Norfolk councils to discuss the issue.
Chris Punt, county councillor for Beccles, said a straight-line route for the pylons would go through the Waveney Valley where a new tourism initiative had just been launched.
“Who will want to come on holiday if 90 pylons are built between Waveney and Diss,” he asked?
“Once the pylons are up they are there for at least 25 years.”
He said it was important for local communities to get together and engage with National Grid and lobby their MPs.
“It is vital we work with National Grid rather than create a barrier. It is important we have offshore turbines that will create good jobs for young people,” he said.
South Norfolk councillor Jenny Wilby, who chairs the authority’s Waveney Valley neighbourhood board, said: “Pylons in the Waveney Valley would be devastating. We want to promote tourism along the valley which is one of our most picturesque areas.
“I will ask our officials in South Norfolk to look into this and we will have to work with colleagues in other authorities in a united front to protect the environment.”
While acknowledging people’s concerns, Norfolk County Council cabinet member Graham Plant said until any proposals became clear, and the feasibility of burying cables or running them under the sea became known, it was difficult to respond.
He said: “We are encouraging the energy sector to Norfolk and Suffolk to create jobs. If we are saying, ‘you are going to have really big trouble’, may be they will go somewhere else to bring the power into England.”
National Grid spokesman Jeanette Unsworth stressed that the project was at a very early stage and preferred routes would only be put forward after extensive public consultation taking in a wide range of stakeholders from local authorities to wildlife trusts.
Derek Christie, a spokesman for windfarm developer Scottish Power, said it had not yet even been determined whether power would be brought ashore at Lowestoft; it related to a later phase of the project unlikely to reach the planning stage for at least five years.
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