Plans for 180km of pylons across East Anglia could be challenged in court
- Credit: ANDREW MILLIGAN/PA
Plans for 50-metre tall pylons carrying green electricity through Suffolk and north Essex could be taken to the High Court, one MP has said.
Campaigners argue the proposed network of pylons – which would connect Norwich to Tilbury in Essex, via a substation in Bramford – should be replaced with cables on the seabed to spare the East Anglian countryside.
But National Grid bosses, who drew up the East Anglia GREEN plans, say they are waiting for the outcome of a government study before they look at changing the proposals.
The East Anglia GREEN is a proposed network of pylons that will carry electricity from renewable sources on the east coast – like off-shore wind farms and Sizewell nuclear power plant – to London.
It will be made up mainly of 50-metre tall 400kV pylons, but cables could be put underground at points – such as when it goes through through the Dedham Vale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty near Stratford St Mary.
The line will need to be built and connected by 2030 and has just gone into a public consultation phase.
Leading the opposition to the plans is a group of East Anglian MPs whose constituencies will be affected by the pylons.
Called the Off-Shore Electricity Grid Task Force (OffSET), the group aims to stop more pylons from going up across East Anglia and to persuade the government to adopt a "strategic approach to electricity transition grid planning in the east of England".
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Bernard Jenkin, MP for Harwich and North Essex and the group's chairman, said: "The plans reflect a piecemeal, patch-and-mend approach to critical national infrastructure.
"The idea that you're going to stretch a bit of cable here and stretch a bit of cable there and make do is rubbish. What we need is a strategic plan for the electricity grid for the east of England – and it will be sensible to put as much as possible offshore."
Mr Jenkin said members of the OffSET group had repeatedly met with government ministers to plead their case.
He said: "What we need is for ministers to take charge, and to take powers to instruct the electricity supply operator to plan it differently.
"A big cultural and regulatory change is required."
The Conservative MP added that the group would be prepared to take the National Grid to court over the proposals.
"If they carry on with these onshore proposals they're going to meet so much opposition," he said.
"They will be judicially reviewed because they have dismissed without proper consultation the offshore proposal.
"The offshore proposal is not in their consultation. They're not consulting properly and I believe this consultation to be completely illegal.
"It's very open to challenge in the courts and that's what we'll do if necessary."
James Cartlidge, MP for South Suffolk, is also part of the group.
He has raised particular concerns about how the pylons would affect Constable Country and the Dedham Vale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Mr Cartlidge said planners should look at other undersea cabling projects, including the Western Link – a 770km undersea power line linking Scotland to Wales.
He said: "The links off Scotland are running a much bigger distance – they're there to avoid impact on the countryside. Our countryside is just as beautiful and just as valuable. The people here feel just as strongly."
The Suffolk Green Party has also spoken out against the plans.
Rachel Smith-Lyte, Green councillor for Melton at East Suffolk Council, said: “With more wind farms and a continuing need to install additional capacity off East Anglia, what is missing is a strategic approach by government to link them all together.
“We know that putting cables under the sea is more expensive than pylons, but this is no surprise when every energy company is constructing a separate landfall and its own grid connections on land.
“If you put a grid under the sea and get companies to co-operate then costs will be very significantly reduced. The key is for government to intervene in order to make sure this happens.”
Previously, Lord Deben, chairman of the Climate Change Committee, told this newspaper he was in favour of undersea cables linking renewable energy sources together.
"What we need is a ring main, which goes around the coast and comes in at the right place – probably Bradwell," he said."
What do National Grid bosses say?
A National Grid spokeswoman said: “This upgrade is needed to connect new offshore wind energy to the national electricity network. The latest Network Options Assessment (NOA) report confirms the need for an upgrade to the network in East Anglia in all future energy scenarios.
“The government and National Grid Electricity System Operator are developing a Holistic Network Design (HND) for offshore wind projects which aim to be operational by 2030.
"The HND, supported by National Grid Electricity Transmission, is being produced to ensure that all energy network infrastructure is designed and coordinated considering economic, environmental and community impacts.
“If there is a shift in policy in light of this study, we will reflect this in our proposals.
“Ultimately we need to connect new offshore wind to our network and we need this reinforcement to be operational by 2031 to help the UK achieve its net-zero target by 2050. These projects take many years and we must continue work to develop our proposals if we are to meet this on time.
“We are in the early stages of developing the East Anglia GREEN project and this consultation is to hear the views from local communities on our proposed route.”
To have your say on the plans, click here.