‘Environmental disaster’ – Anger at bid for 21-metre high substation in beauty spot
- Credit: Peter Chadwick
Suffolk council chiefs have been accused of playing “backdoor politics” to push through proposals for a massive substation in an area of outstanding natural beauty.
The proposals, which would see the industrialisation of a 30 acre section of the Suffolk Coast and Heaths AONB, near Leiston, are being fiercely fought by campaigners, who say it will decimate a rare natural habitat.
Save Our Sandlings (SOS), the group leading the fight, claim the odds have been stacked against them by politicians seeking to influence the outcome. They have been backed by celebrities, including actress Diana Quick, and former BBC Breakfast presenter Bill Turnbull.
The substation, which is part of Scottish Power Renewables’ (SPR) offshore windfarm project, would feature 21-metre tall buildings and transformers handling 2GW of power, to connect with the National Grid. SPR, which would build the substation, said its new windfarm, East Anglia TWO, could supply up to 742,000 homes.
Campaigners have accused politicians of pushing for the substation to be built in the AONB, a key part of the wildlife corridor near RSPB Minsmere.
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SOS member Bridget Chadwick said she was “horrified” to see a letter signed in May by the then leaders of Suffolk County Council, Suffolk Coastal District Council and Waveney District Council seeking Government help to bring the AONB site, known as Broom Covert, into consideration.
The letter asks business minister Greg Clark and housing minister James Brokenshire to pressurise EDF Energy, which owns the site, to make it available for SPR.
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EDF, which had been working with Suffolk Wildlife Trust to establish the site as an ecological mitigation area in preparation for Sizewell C, will respond as a consultee to SPR’s consultation.
EDF will not make the final substation decision.
David Wood, chairman of AONB Partnership, a group of organisations conserving the Suffolk Coast and Heaths, said he felt “extremely let down” by the councils’ response – especially as they were partnership members.
Mr Wood, who is also a Liberal Democrat SCC councillor, said: “It came as a real shock. The councils are supposed to be transparent and open to scrutiny but it seems like a case of backdoor politics.”
The councils say their response aimed to ensure SPR included all viable sites in its consultation, rather than to push for one in particular.
Prior to the councils’ intervention, SPR’s consultation did not feature Broom Covert and favoured Friston for the substation.
The councils objected to the Friston site, which they, together with residents, said was unsuitable due to its rural setting.
The councils said Broom Covert could be more suitable, as it required less underground cabling and would be less disruptive to the landscape due to being close to Sizewell. They said AONB status should not rule the site out.
Following the councils’ criticism of SPR’s consultation, a new stage called “phase 3.5” was launched, which included, for the first time, Broom Covert.
Mrs Chadwick, who lives nearby, said the community was shocked by site’s inclusion and felt the consultation was too short, even after its deadline was extended to November 12.
She said that although the site was referred to as part of the Sizewell estate, it was actually closer to Leiston, and had so far escaped adverse effects of the energy industry.
She said the substation, however, would mean “trashing” a rare wildlife habitat, and would be an “environmental disaster”.
Her husband, Peter Chadwick, said support for the campaign had grown “very fast”, with hundreds attending parish meetings to voice concerns. “The consultation has been a fiasco,” he added.
He has made campaign videos featuring actress Diana Quick, presenter Bill Turnbull and author Julia Blackburn.
Belinda Chandler, another SOS member, questioned the project’s green credentials. “If this is supposed to be green, renewable energy, why are they trying to ruin an AONB rather than use brownfield sites?” she asked.
Further concerns have been raised about health risks posed by the concentration of electrical infrastructure and security issues of having much of the country’s energy reliant on one site.
Leiston Town Council also voted against building on the AONB – or any of the sites. Chairman Lesley Hill said the council was “totally unaware” of the site’s inclusion, before consultation and had to call a special meeting to respond.
•Visit SPR’s website to take part in the consultation.
Could further disruption follow?
Campaigners say they fear the substation will lead to more development in the area, which would further ruin the landscape.
Members of the Save Our Sandlings group believe the site is being lined up to accommodate National Grid’s “intercontinental connector” – a pipeline connecting the UK’s energy network with Europe.
“We feel that we’ve already done our bit and shouldn’t be made to take any more,” said SOS member Jenny Pearson.
Ms Pearson said people living in the area have been assured by councils and developers before that no more projects would be dumped on the area – and so residents were suspicious.
Campaign leaflets warn that the substation would cut the AONB’s coastal strip in half, representing a “creeping industrialisation of our open countryside” and setting a precedent that endangers all AONBs.
The leaflets also warn of the impact on tourism, which it says sustains more jobs in the region than any substation.
‘We have not yet responded’ - Suffolk councils
The councils said they have been “very vocal and transparent” in representing their communities on this issue, by repeated calling for the power companies to co-ordinate in order to minimise the impact of their developments on the “unique local environment”.
“To be clear, our position is that both Suffolk Coastal District Council and Suffolk County Council were unhappy with the evidence that Scottish Power provided to demonstrate it had fully examined the viability of all the potential sites, before alighting on Friston as the only option,” they said is a statement.
“We have asked Scottish Power to reassess all of the sites, including Sizewell, and to consult with the public on these.
“The current proposals reflect that Scottish Power has listened to these concerns. Scottish Power’s preferred options for its development sites will be shaped by the current consultation and we, as the local councils, will respond to this consultation.
“At this time, we have not yet responded to this round of consultation, so any comment about what our response will be is purely speculation.”
‘All feedback will be fully considered’ - ScottishPower Renewables
“The additional consultation phase (Phase 3.5) is specifically investigating the potential of locating the onshore substations for the projects on the Sizewell Estate land (known as Broom Covert, Sizewell), as an alternative to the site north of Friston (known as Grove Wood, Friston). This follows continued dialogue with all parties, including EDF Energy, local communities, Suffolk County Council and Suffolk Coastal District Council. Following requests from the community, we extended this consultation period by a further two weeks to allow as many people as possible to provide their comments. All feedback will be fully considered and used to shape and inform our plans going forward.”
Background to the wind farm project
The substation forms part of SPR’s wind farm plans off the Suffolk and Norfolk coast.
The wider project began in 2009 when it was awarded rights by the Crown Estate to develop off the coast.
The first development, East Anglia ONE, is expected to be operational in 2020, delivering power for 589,000 homes. East Anglia THREE, received development in consent in 2017. Another two projects, East Anglia ONE NORTH and East Anglia TWO are under consideration.
EA2 would be 32km off the Southwold coast, featuring 75 wind turbines with a 900MW capacity, powering up to 742,000 homes.
Public information days were held in March. SPR held a second consultation phase in June and July, followed by a third in September, An extra consultation stage, phase 3.5, began later that month, at which the Broom Covert site was introduced. The final application is expected to be submitted to the Planning Inspectorate by the end of 2019.
‘This is just another level of consultation’ - Suffolk Coastal MP Therese Coffey
“I have been working closely with local councillors on this matter, including a meeting with the Energy Minister, the Rt Hon Claire Perry MP. I understand residents in Friston are pleased with the addition of the Broom Covert site, but we must remember this is just another level of consultation. I haven’t said that I support that site and I think the AONB needs to be respected. I recognise the concerns of local residents and have agreed to meet them. Wherever the Planning Inspectorate decides it should be built, I will be pushing for the buildings to fit within the environment as much as possible and be dug into the ground to minimise the effect on the natural landscape.”
‘Establishing an agreed ecological mitigation area’ - EDF Energy
“As part of the development of East Anglia TWO and ONE North offshore windfarms, ScottishPower Renewables is exploring the possibility of using land on the Sizewell B estate for the SPR development. This land is proposed to be used as a site to translocate protected wildlife in preparation for the Sizewell C development which is proposed to be built next to Sizewell B. EDF Energy has been working in recent years with Suffolk Wildlife Trust and Natural England to establish this land as an agreed ecological mitigation area.
ScottishPower Renewables is undertaking a further stage of pre-application consultation, to gauge the views of stakeholders including local landowners such as EDF Energy.”
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