Farmers' shock as Sizewell C road and rail links plans revealed
PUBLISHED: 10:00 12 January 2019 | UPDATED: 10:14 14 January 2019
Suffolk farmers fear their way of life might be under threat after Sizewell C published its infrastructure plans.
John Poll, of Old Abbey Farm, Leiston is worried about the future of his business after discovering his land lies smack in the middle of two road and one rail link planned for Sizewell C nuclear power plant.
He said he was shocked when he found out how much of his land was affected – although the rail link plan was expected, two road bypasses were “an extra hit”.
MORE – College leaders pick themselves up after ‘bombshell’ Ofsted report
Developer EDF Energy, which has just published details of its plans at the third stage of a pre-application public consultation, wants to build road bypasses across Middleton Moor and around Theberton village, and has also submitted rail link proposals at Leiston – with all three schemes slicing through the Polls’ land.
The committed farmer, now aged 56, has spent all his adult life working the highly-prized land on the family’s 500 acre farm, which is spread across pockets of land in the Leiston, Theberton, Middleton Moor, Snape area.
His grandad, Herbert, started out as a tenant farmer and bought 50 acres near Leiston Abbey in the early 1950s on retiring. Son, Fred, now 88 and still taking a keen interest in the farm, along with wife, Janet, 81, grew the business, and John continued to build it up, snapping up precious landholdings as they became available.
“It’s a small family farm and replacing the land is almost impossible because there’s nothing available in this area,” he explained. “Small farmers are not very common around here. When we started, out, everyone was a small farmer, but without exception, they have all gone.”
Janet added: “We have been here a lot of time and this is our life.”
He is supported by long-serving farm worker, Jason Woods, and has been joined by son, Robert, 26, in the business, which specialises in asparagus and potato growing, as well as cereals and sugar beet crops. It supplies local shops and businesses as well as the East of England Co-op and wholesalers with its vegetable crops. The family also rents about 100 acres of land, some of which also lies in the path of the proposed rail link.
In its proposal, EDF said it was committed to acquiring the right to use the land needed for its plans through private negotiations but would apply for compulsory purchase powers or rights of access should it not prove possible to reach agreement.
The week before publication of the plans, the family was visited by EDF representatives and learnt for the first time that road bypasses might be involved, but didn’t know the details, which were revealed later.
“I was very shocked to be honest, as well others,” he said of his reaction when he discovered the extent of the incursion onto his land. “I’m not knocking EDF in any way whatsoever – they are doing what they need to do. But that’s my life – I have worked all my life to get where we have got to.”
All his vegetable growing land is irrigated to ensure that he grows the best and healthiest crops, and finding alternative farmland in the area to the same specification without breaking the bank would be his biggest challenge, should he have to sell, he explained.
“If they say you can have 20 acres of the other site, it would not suit me - irrigation is what I need,” he said. “I just want to farm. I understand why they need to do it - it’s just the impact on other people’s livelihoods.”
John, who has his land in a mid-tier environmental scheme, has adopted a range of conservation measures. His farmland is home to around 20 bee hives run by a local beekeeper, and a Red Poll cattle herd which grazes on one of his fields. Lapwings thrive on the farm and he has been working with bird charity RSPB on measures to help turtle dove populations.
Now the prospect of losing dozens of acres of land is causing huge uncertainty, he said. “We have got it hanging over us – that’s the point,” he said. “Of course, there are many other farmers affected as well.”
An EDF Energy spokesperson said: “EDF Energy is in the third stage of public consultation of Sizewell C with local communities in East Suffolk, providing an opportunity for residents and businesses to have their say. Their feedback, together with our technical assessments, will help shape our final proposals.
“Whilst Sizewell C will provide a boost to skills, education and the local economy, we are mindful of the potential impact the project may have and will continue our ongoing discussions with local communities and businesses and any mitigation that may be required.”