Judy Terry is a marketing professional and a former local councillor in Suffolk.
Local authorities and six MPs across East Anglia are objecting to proposals for a new 112 mile pylon network from Norwich to Tilbury, with a new substation at Ipswich, to deliver electricity from the region’s expanding renewables.
Part of National Grid’s East Anglia “Green agenda”, the pylons will have a major impact on historic sites, prime agricultural land, and local communities, as well as risks to wildlife. There are also concerns about potential flight dangers, including for a popular gliding club based in the area.
It is proposed that cables would be put underground through the Dedham Vale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, despite the damage this would inevitably inflict across ‘Constable Country’ during construction.
Suffolk County Council refuses to support the project as it stands, believing that there are better ways to deliver electricity, including an undersea network which has not been fully investigated, although National Grid have dismissed this as an option, saying it would cost billions.
The Council has repeatedly campaigned for Government Ministers to have a more co-ordinated off-shore approach, to meet the demands from the rising number of renewable projects in the region.
Instead of the current ad hoc process, it would surely make sense to have a comprehensive energy strategy, requiring all these ‘renewable’ projects to submit detailed infrastructure plans, together with accurate timescales for delivering that energy, before work is even started on new windfarms and solar power sites. Although the future of Sizewell C is still in limbo, how it delivers to the wider community must be included in the strategy.
Any strategy should also take account of new housing and commercial developments planned – both regional and national – as well as the government’s promised 40 new hospitals, and essential charging points for electric cars, buses, vans etc. to avoid unnecessary further disruption to communities, which already suffer endless (often repeated) road closures to install fast broadband, new gas pipes etc.
Councillor Richard Rout, the Council’s Deputy Leader and Cabinet member for Finance and Environment, says:
“The council absolutely supports ambitions for renewable energy.
“However, the council objects to the proposals as it stands and I am determined that Suffolk will not suffer unnecessarily as a consequence. We will continue to protect our communities, residents and natural environment.
“The council has lobbied government for 11 years on the issue of better co-ordination for off-shore transmission. We are demanding that a more collaborative solution is found to manage the different network connection requirements coming into Suffolk and East Anglia and that all network options are fully explored.
“Alongside other regional councils and MPs, we regularly speak to ministers and officials, emphasising our concerns about the impact of these projects on the area.”
Unfortunately, it appears that those ministers and officials aren’t listening.
There are unanswered questions and confusion about ‘facts’. National Grid told BBC’s Look East website that its East Anglia GREEN proposals “met government’s ambitions to connect 40GW of offshore energy to power every home in the country by 2030”. Really? The East of England Energy Group (EEGR) says the region is set to provide energy (wind, gas, nuclear) to 58 per cent of UK homes, but hasn’t set a deadline.
A barrister, employed by campaigners objecting to the pylons, noted that “the lay public consultees have not been provided with anything like sufficient information to make an intelligent comparison of the environmental impacts and, if uncorrected, these legal deficiencies will affect the later statutory consultation.”
There is no doubt that off-shore windfarms are beneficial, creating an estimated 12,000 new skilled jobs, helping to revive the economy in deprived areas like Lowestoft, but there is considerable frustration at the lack of a clear, empathetic, strategy. Instead, local authorities – and the general public – feel ignored when decisions appear to be made without recognising their legitimate concerns.
In particular, at a time when there is increasing demand for Britain to be more self-sufficient in food production, destroying prime agricultural land with such projects is senseless. Farmers are already losing thousands of pounds annually because they can’t get people to help with livestock, including turkeys, or pick their fruit and veg, and are ploughing it back into the ground. Yet the UK continues to import a range of fresh products from around the world.
People support ‘going green’ because they want to protect the environment, yet too many policies seem to do the opposite – destroying it.
Where will the steel come from for these new pylons? It should be remembered that some windfarms rely on China to manufacture the turbines (adding to that country’s emissions) transporting them via huge container ships to the UK!
Government needs to have joined up strategies to address the complexities of these issues, instead of sticking to a silo mentality. A first step would be for ministers and officials to listen to those who do understand the challenges and can help to find solutions.
There will be another opportunity to comment on the National Grid’s East Anglia GREEN proposals before an application is submitted to the Planning Inspectorate in 2024. One can only hope that more detailed information will be available for a comprehensive debate on the right way forward for the long term.