Boost for business but communities ‘stressed and depressed’ - what could Hinkley mean for Sizewell C?
PUBLISHED: 07:00 12 December 2019 | UPDATED: 08:22 12 December 2019
Suffolk communities could expect to benefit from the “biggest boost to the economy for a generation”, if Sizewell C follows the same course as its sister project in Somerset – or years of disruption and stress.
Opinions on Hinkley Point C range hugely, depending on who you ask.
The power station is almost identical in design to Sizewell C - but with construction having already started, it offers a possible glimpse at Suffolk's future.
Consultation on both projects revealed concerns around issues such as traffic, environmental impacts and the loss of tourism. EDF Energy's assurances about new roads and work plans to minimise disruption were also familiar across both - as were the promises of economic benefits and thousands of jobs.
But whereas the impact of Sizewell will remain unknown for years to come - if it does go ahead - people in Somerset have been able to start assessing whether the benefits outweigh the troubles.
Somerset County Council has given the most positive account, describing Hinkley as "biggest boost to the economy of the region for a generation".
The council's scrutiny committee for place, which visited the site in November, highlighted the 4,000 jobs and 450 apprenticeships created.
Somerset Chamber of Commerce also highlighted the 4,000 local companies to have signed up to the 'Hinkley Supply Chain'
"The benefits to businesses in the South West are evident in the number of regional companies we have approaching us with their success stories, as well as the headline figure of £1.7 billion of contracts awarded so far," a spokesman added. "No two success stories are the same and the routes to contract vary greatly."
Helen Lacey, managing director at Red Berry Recruitment, gave a more mixed appraisal.
She said that while there had been opportunities, businesses had also lost out.
"It's almost like a double edged sword," she said. "Initially, there was a big flurry of activity when lots of business in the manufacturing sector started to lose staff because of the salaries that Hinkley were offering.
"That did put a strain on a lot of businesses - some had to close down entire manufacturing lines because they didn't have the required engineers or welder and they were unable to back fill."
But Ms Lacey said that many staff had since returned and they found Hinkley "was not an environment they wanted to work in",
She said the influx of workers from places such as France, Scotland, Newcastle and Wales had benefited the economy through increased spending, resulting in new gyms and hotels opening.
But Ms Lacey questioned whether the benefits would continue or leave the region a "ghost town". "What will the legacy be?" she said.
What campaigners said
Campaigners who objected to Hinkley C claim people have moved from the area because of the "emotional stress" of constant disruption.
Roy Pumfrey, of Stop Hinkley said opposition had increased significantly since construction got underway - with traffic the most pressing concern.
Councils had pressed for EDF to build a "northern bypass" for Bridgwater. But despite a 1,400-strong petition, EDF ruled it out on environmental grounds.
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Mr Pumfrey said it meant that as soon as work began, "thousands of HGVs came through Cannington, where I live".
Mr Pumfrey said many workers had been accused of 'fly-parking' in residential streets while they access the site. EDF said it had a team issuing warning tickets or removing site access passes from 'fly-parking' offenders.
EDF has also said it had tried to address pressures on accommodation, by creating a 500-bed onsite campus and 1,000 bed facility in Bridgwater, as well as a £7.5m housing fund to help councils create a further 1,900 bed spaces, for local people, workers and tourists.
But Mr Pumfrey said many workers still rented privately - and their high salaries had pushed up prices from an average of around £350 per month for a one-bed property to £500 or more. A recent online search found the cheapest one-bed flat in Bridgwater was £450per month, while most cost between £600-700.
Mr Pumfrey said the hikes "squeezed local people out of the accommodation market".
Richard Cuttell, chairman of the West Hinkley Action Group, said his initial concerns were for the impact on the villages surrounding the site, including dust, noise, and light pollution as well as increased traffic.
Now that work had begun, he said all the group's concerns had proven justified.
"Windows and cars need cleaning more often," he said. "Fields and the remaining hedgerow adjacent to the site are regularly coated in dust."
He said the traffic had been the most noticeable impact - with journeys to Bridgwater taking up to an hour longer.
"The physical problems are the easiest to see and identify but some people have moved away because of the emotional stress and depression that the constant disruption has caused," he said. "It is not easy to put in print exactly how the development is affecting those on the front line. The view of 45 metre high spoil heaps where once beautiful countryside existed is painful."
However, he added that jobs had been created and businesses had benefited.
What EDF said
EDF said Hinkley Point C had so far created 6,500 jobs- half of which went to local people - and seen £1.5bn spent on companies in the region.
The company acknowledged construction had an "inevitable effect" on the local community but added that it tried to ensure the benefits outweigh the problems.
"Traffic on the roads, noise from construction activities and lots of new people in the area are some of the noticeable impacts," a spokesman said, "All of them are limited by planning agreements and lengthy negotiations with local authorities. Of course, there are also benefits, including millions of pounds in contracts for local businesses and suppliers, jobs and, training and new skills for hundreds of local people."
The company claims to have been able to reduce traffic by delivering much of the project parts by sea, EDF also capped HGVs to avoid deliveries during the busiest times of the day - with ANPR cameras used to ensure they follow approved routes and times.
The site's 'Hinkely Health' facility has been launched to prevent workers becoming a drain on local NHS and includes an on site GP, specialist treatment nurse and occupational health technicians.
EDF said that while there had been concern about the social impact of construction workers on the area - this "turned out to be more about perception than reality".
"Local police figures show that there has not been the jump in crime and disorder that some feared," a spokesman added.
"Hinkley Point C can help rebuild Britain's industrial capability, supporting construction of UK infrastructure and acting as a showcase for the international market; a launch pad to a share of a potentially huge international market as world demand for energy continues to grow," a spokesman added.
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