Hopes have been raised that new prime minister Rishi Sunak will stop a 110-mile line of electricity pylons being built through the Suffolk countryside. The 50m-high pylons, running from Norfolk to Essex, are being proposed as part of National Grid’s ‘East Anglia GREEN’ project – which seeks to carry electricity from wind farms off the Norfolk coast down to the Greater London area.
Thousands of people across the region have expressed concern over the scheme’s visual and habitat impacts, with more than 22,000 signatures collected on a petition against it earlier this year. But with Mr Sunak’s arrival in Number 10, campaigners – who say the route should go offshore instead – are cautiously optimistic about what his premiership could mean for the project’s future.
During the summer Conservative leadership race, Mr Sunak committed to ordering National Grid to re-consult on “innovative and alternative solution” to the scheme. Liz Truss, who is a Norfolk MP herself, was approached for comment at the time, but did not give a view on the project.
Rosie Pearson, who chairs the Essex Suffolk Norfolk Pylons action group, said: “Unlike Liz Truss, who had her head in the sand about how to transmit excess wind power from the North Sea out of East Anglia, Rishi Sunak did state his position clearly during the summer leadership campaign.” In an August letter to the group, a spokesman for Mr Sunak said he was “committed to doing all he can to reduce the amount of infrastructure required onshore” – a pledge Ms Pearson said her group was “delighted by”.
She urged Mr Sunak to reopen a government study called the Offshore Transmission Network Review (OTNR), which looked at how energy projects could be more efficiently joined up. “The short-sighted offshore transmission review, published this summer, threw East Anglia under a bus by ignoring the need for an offshore grid,” said Ms Pearson.
“The review instead continued the damaging piecemeal approach to electricity transmission that harms our coastlines, communities and countryside and costs consumers billions of pounds.” National Grid says the line of pylons will help the UK meet its target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050, by enabling sustainably-produced electricity to travel across the country to the places of highest demand.
Earlier this year, the company’s director of new infrastructure, Zac Richardson, has said the firm did not believe it was “technically feasible or economic” for the line to go offshore. More recently, National Grid has produced a series of costings, which claim to prove that an equivalent offshore version of the project would cost six times as much as the proposed onshore version.
It led to South Norfolk MP Richard Bacon saying earlier this month that he had “lost confidence” in National Grid. He had said: “National Grid’s approach is wholly inadequate and looks suspiciously like an attempt to predetermine the conclusion before doing serious analysis of all the options including the offshore route.
“In common with many of my parliamentary colleagues across East Anglia I have lost confidence in National Grid. We will continue to make the case to ministers for a proper analysis from an independent source which can command greater confidence.” The onshore version is currently proposed to go underground when it passes through the Dedham Vale Area of Outstanding National Beauty (AONB) on the Suffolk-Essex border, but to otherwise remain above ground.
The route would begin at Dunston, just south of Norwich, and would run roughly parallel and slightly east of the Norwich to London rail line, near Long Stratton and Diss. It would then exit the county and pass through Suffolk and Essex to reach Tilbury, on the Thames estuary.
Commenting earlier this month, a National Grid spokeswoman said: “The next phase of consultation in late Spring 2023 will include detailed information showing how we have developed the scheme in response to the feedback received, as well as providing greater detail on the route of the proposed onshore corridor and how we will be mitigating impacts on local communities living in close proximity.
“We strongly encourage local communities to continue to engage with us. Consultation feedback and local knowledge will help us to develop the best way forward while supporting the ambition of the country to achieve targets for clean power, efficiently, economically and quickly.”
Number 10 Downing Street, and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, were both approached for comment on what steps Mr Sunak would be taking, but neither responded.
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