Growing concern is being voiced over plans for seven major energy projects in part of east Suffolk – and the lack of coordinated policy to deal with the concentration of development.
Campaigners fear the massive schemes, which could be built in 25 square miles of rural landscape, could cause serious harm to an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty – and devastate the area’s tourism industry.
Now a new body comprising local action groups has been set up to fight the Government over the issue and secure a national plan for where vital infrastructure will be located.
Graeme Murray, chairman of the Anglian Energy Planning Alliance, said the group was not against the generation and provision of electricity to secure the country’s future power needs, but wanted “proper planning” to ensure local communities were treated fairly and precious landscape and habitat was protected.
The biggest problem was a lack of coordination of national infrastructure projects – with major developments simply arriving ad hoc, one after the other with no assessment of the overall cumulative impact.
He said: “We are looking at the possibility of seven independent, major power projects to hit one small region of East Anglia in a very short time span – around 10 to 15 years – and the construction of several of them will overlap.
“This will be huge development – it will overwhelm large areas of countryside and woodland, which will be taken from us and destroyed.
“Local communities will have this on their doorstep and there will be an enormous impact. Tourists just won’t come to this area any more. Why would you with all this disruption and the changes to the area?”
The area which will suffer most from being Suffolk’s “energy hub” is bounded by Friston, Theberton, Thorpeness and Sizewell – small communities which will see new power stations, wind farm substations, and national grid interconnector sites to bring power from abroad.
Mr Murray said the group had no quarrel with the power companies.
He said: “They are simply doing their job. Our argument is with national government which has no plan for all these developments. An application arrives for Sizewell C/D and then for the wind farm substation and cross-country pipeline, and then there will be more to come. But there is no overall planning, no looking ahead, no consideration for the communities involved.
“This is not NIMBY-ism. We want to see a proper debate.”
The group accepted the projects would bring some local benefits and jobs – perhaps not the 6,000 locally that the government’s energy deal boasts – but they were principally for the national good, albeit “uncoordinated and ill-considered”.
Mr Murray said: “In trying to face the problem, Government has stumbled into a chaotic mess of unconnected construction projects by competing energy generating companies, and disjointed power carrying infrastructure, to the detriment of many local communities and regional economies.”
In a letter to the Planning Inspectorate, Substation Action/Save East Suffolk chairman Michael Mahony said the prospect of seven major infrastructure projects in one small area was “unprecedented”.
He said there was a “failure so far to look at the potential cumulative impact of a whole series of potential NSIPs (Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects), all which are being proposed for development in a relatively small part of East Suffolk”.
Suffolk-based TV presenter Bill Turnbull told Save Our Sandlings the substation plan would “wipe out a lot of the wildlife” in the immediate area, which is 1% of the lowland heath in the world. “If you chip away at that you can’t get it back,” he said.
Fiona Cairns, director of the Suffolk Preservation Society, said the impact will be substantial.
She said: “The cumulative implications for this county’s countryside, communities, cultural heritage and existing infrastructure, not just those in our most precious landscape, the Suffolk Coast and Heaths AONB, must be fully understood, costed and mitigated.
“The lack of a strategic and coordinated approach to energy production makes the cumulative impact of these individual projects particularly threatening. Without a Government-led holistic plan that links together all the energy projects either taking place or which are likely to take place in Suffolk, the county risks being degraded forever.”
There is confusion in Whitehall over where the responsibility sits for national infrastructure projects.
The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) insisted such planning decisions were made by the Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government – while that department said BEIS has responsibility for national infrastructure.
Neither was prepared to give a comment.
There is no planning policy to coordinate such development at present despite the urgent need to address the country’s future power supplies.
Commitment has been made to a new nuclear build programme (of which Hinkley Point C is the first to get under way with the proposed Sizewell C twin reactor expected to be next) plus a commitment to green energy.
But an energy white paper being promoted this summer will look to address some of the detail of future needs – and campaigners will hope for some clarity.
The projects causing concern:
● EDF Energy’s proposals for Sizewell C, a twin reactor nuclear power station, which will generate power for five million homes.
● Scottish PowerRenewables’ plans for a 30-acre substation planned for land at Friston to serve two windfarms – East Anglia ONE North and East Anglia TWO, which together will provide electricity for 1.5million households.
● National Grid Ventures’ proposed Nautilus Interconnector project with Belgium for 1500MW of electricity.
● National Grid Ventures’ proposed Eurolink Interconnector project with Holland for 1600MW of power.
● Plans to expand the Greater Gabbard wind farm, which could see more cables brought ashore between Sizewell and Leiston.
● Crown Estate’s announced intention to grant rights to expand the Galloper wind farm, with cables likely to come ashore in east Suffolk.