Campaigners unite in calling for a pause before ‘onslaught’ of energy projects ‘devastates’ region
PUBLISHED: 06:00 09 December 2019 | UPDATED: 15:18 09 December 2019
Campaigners and politicians have called on the Government to pause the expansion of the energy industry in Suffolk, which they fear will turn the countryside into an “industrial wasteland” and hit tourism.
Groups from Suffolk and Norfolk met in Aldeburgh on Sunday when they agreed a unified stance against the "onslaught" of projects facing the region.
The groups said they supported renewable energy but warned the lack of "joined up thinking" from Government and energy companies was threatening the landscape, with large substations and cable routes.
They urged people to write to the Planning Inspectorate and Secretary of State for BEIS before decisions are made on two massive projects - ScottishPower Renewables'(SPR) East Anglia One North and East Anglia Two wind farms and EDF Energy's Sizewell C.
Meeting chairman, Andrew Fane of Suffolk Preservation Society, urged that the Government put a "pause" on all projects until a review of energy policies was undertaken.
Liz Thomas of Substation Action Save East Suffolk (SASES) warned that the region was at a "critical stage" and could face "unparalleled devastation". Ms Thomas has already written to the Secretary of State warning that the energy proposals threaten "beautiful east Suffolk" with a "terrible legacy". She added the projects would "irrevocably change the region into an industrial waste-land".
Representatives from around 30 town and parish councils have also co-signed a letter to the Secretary of State, highlighting their concerns about the impact of the energy projects.
Several politicians have also written, urging a review into energy strategy before decisions are taken on the two projects.
Views on how the energy strategy should be developed vary - but there is broad consensus that current transmission methods are too disruptive.
Much of the concern has focussed on SPR's East Anglia Array projects. The first parts of the array, East Anglia One and East Anglia Thee - which together are expected to meet the needs of 1.5m homes - connect to the grid at a substation in Bramford, north of Ipswich, via a 22-mile cable route from the coast at Bawdsey.
The second phase - East Anglia Two and East Anglia One North - could require a new connection at Thorpeness and a six-mile cable trench through the Suffolk Coast and Heath AONB to a 30-acre substation site in Friston.
The proposals have been fiercely opposed by local residents, campaign groups and councils, who say it would "destroy the sanctity of village life".
Meanwhile, EDF Energy is expected to submit a development consent order for Sizewell C - a 3.2GW dual reactor nuclear power station, capable of supplying electricity to around six million homes - in the first quarter of 2020. While EDF claims Sizewell is needed to meet the nation's low carbon energy needs, as well as highlighting the thousands of jobs created - questions have been raised at an international level as to whether nuclear still has a role to play in the future of energy generation. EDF has also come under fire for the level of detail in its Sizewell proposals. Consultees said their biggest concerns were the impact of Sizewell C combined with the other energy projects, namely the wind farms.
The scale of these projects and the role they are expected to play in meeting the nation's energy needs has seen Suffolk referred to as the "energy coast". But some feel the title to be incompatible with the £210m tourism economy based around the Suffolk Coast and Heaths AONB.
AONB manager Simon Amstutz said Suffolk was the only nationally designated landscape to be considered for a new nuclear power station - and the region was being asked to pay too a high price for the energy sector.
The Suffolk Coast Destination Management Organisation (DMO) published a recent report, which estimated the tourism industry would suffer a £24m annual loss if the two major projects go ahead.
The DMO and AONB have called for a national strategy on energy.
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But their calls for better co-ordination are nothing new.
As far back as 2011, a Suffolk County Council report on the "National Symposium on Future Electricity Networks" said concerns over infrastructure were "very widespread and very deep". Symposium chairman Tim Yeo, who was South Suffolk MP, said new technologies existed, which "could be harnessed to our advantage" and failure to do so would be "scandalous".
Eight years later - the concerns have only increased.
More energy projects to come
Campaigners say the big increase in large offshore energy projects the region is expected to host has made the need for a new strategy even more urgent.
The Climate Change Committee said in May the UK would need to produce 75GW of offshore wind energy to meet carbon neutral targets by 2050 - a 10-fold increase on current levels. Suffolk is expected to host a "significant proportion of this future development".
Crown Estates opened bidding in October on phase four of its offshore leasing, with opportunities for up to 8.5GW of wind projects - including in East Anglia.
The energy sector has welcomed the focus on this region - saying it was ideally situated to capitalise, due to its favourable location and conditions.
But campaigners remain concerned that the Government has failed to prepare for the massive growth. With ministers caught up in Brexit negotiations or campaigning for the General Election, groups fear their focus on the energy sector has been dropped at the most crucial time in the region's history.
Our series will look at how the 'energy coast' could affect Suffolk
Suffolk is at a major cross road in its history - a time when massive new energy projects have the potential to revolutionise its economy but also jeopardise the natural landscapes that are prized by so many.
Over the course of the coming few days this newspaper will investigate the numerous energy projects shaping up for this region and what they could mean for the future.
We will speak to representatives from the energy sector who believe Suffolk's role at the epicentre of the "green energy revolution" could bring high skilled and well paid jobs to coastal areas that have suffered from years of under investment.
We will also hear from the many campaign groups that have sprung up in opposition to the various projects, which they fear will do lasting damage to the Suffolk coast and its protected landscapes.
While many support the principles of renewable energy a common concern for many campaigners is that the current approach is too fragmented - and without an over-arching strategy, the region will be left to suffer the consequences for generations to come.
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