Are Suffolk’s prized landscapes ‘paying for the nation’s energy needs’?
As part of our series about Suffolk’s ‘Energy Coast’ we look at concerns over the impact energy developments are having on the region’s beautiful landscapes on which its multimillion pound visitor economy depends.
Tourism leaders and environmentalists have joined forces in opposing the cumulative impact of energy projects including Sizewell C, cable trenches and a 30-acre substation at Friston.
They claim the lasting impacts of two major infrastructure projects - and the prospect of more to come - could do lasting damage to the Suffolk Coast and Heath AONB, which is proven to be one of the region's biggest attractions to visitors.
A recent report by the Suffolk Coast Destination Management Organisation (DMO) said it could cost the region £24million a year in lost visitors - and harm its reputation for peace and tranquillity.
EDF Energy, which is looking to build Sizewell C, and ScottishPower Renewables, which is behind offshore wind and associated substation plans, have insisted they take their responsibilities to the environment seriously. Both companies have acknowledged the possible impact on the environment and said they had looked at how they could be mitigated from harm.
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But AONB manager Simon Amstutz said Suffolk had the only nationally designated landscape being in the line for a new nuclear power station - and the region was being asked to pay too a high price for the energy needs of the country.
"The damage that these projects will cause to its landscapes, tourism industry and quality of life should not be ignored," he added.
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The AONB stretches the length of the Suffolk coast, featuring a mix of shingle beaches, crumbling cliffs, marshes, estuaries, forests and farmland. It is particularly famous for its heathlands, including the rare sandlings, which is a habitat for many wildlife species and rare birds.
Mr Amstutz said the region had been known as the "nature coast" for many years - and the rebranding as the "energy coast" was not compatible with its other assets.
He highlighted a recent conference by the DMO, which represents tourism businesses in the region, where he said "many made their feelings known that this was one re-branding exercise that they did not welcome".
Harry Young, chairman of the DMO, said the biggest concern was how the cumulative impact of energy projects would change visitors' perception of the area.
"The lack of a joined-up plan and national strategy is likely to create construction inefficiencies which, put simply, will dig up more ground and put more vehicles on the roads than is necessary," he said.
Mr Young said the DMO's report indicated many tourists, after learning about the scale of the energy projects, would be deterred from visiting and "will seek to find peace and tranquillity elsewhere".
The report noted that the area was highly dependent on tourism, generating £210m for the local economy in 2017. Based on a survey of visitors and businesses, with more than 1,700 responses, it found there were fears the construction of energy projects "will disrupt the peace and tranquillity the area is known for, and in the process, weaken tourism demand and undermine the livelihood of locals in the region."
Mr Young said the DMO's major task was to stop these changes in perception and continue to "nurture and support the Suffolk Coast brand as a nationally recognised tourism destination".
Both the AONB and DMO have urged decision-makers to pay greater attention to the region's protected status - which they fear has so far been ignored.
AONB chairman David Wood highlighted a recent independent review, commissioned by the Government, into whether the protections for national parks and AONBs were still fit for purpose.
A summary of the Glover Review, published in September, said AONBs should be strengthened with increased funding and a "greater voice on development".
David Wood, chairman of the AONB, said the report was "pretty clear" that AONBs should have a bigger role in development decisions.
"We have made our position very clear through the many consultations and consider that the Sizewell development, in particular, does not appear to be paying proper regard to the AONB and that the new wind farms will harm the natural beauty and special qualities of the area," he added.
"We hope that those proposing these developments will listen to what we have to say and act accordingly."
"What was once known as the nature coast is at risk of being lost."
EDF seeks to 'maximise opportunities' from Sizewell C
EDF said it had a good track record on looking after the environment around Sizewell and the sensitivities of the local area was a "key consideration" in its latest proposals.
The company said it had been awarded The Wildlife Trusts' 'Biodiversity Benchmark' in recognition of conservation work on the Sizewell estate.
A spokesman said the company had already developed a scheme to mitigate the loss of wetland habitat and its ecologists continued to undertake environmental surveys to identify impacts.
EDF added that it had developed schemes to minimise the effect of workers and freight on the roads - by seeking to use rail as well as road.
Jim Crawford, Sizewell C project development director said: "We want to maximise the opportunities Sizewell C offers the local area. We will continue to work closely with schools, colleges and other local education and training providers to make sure local people get the chance to take part in this project."
ScottishPower aims to develop renewable energy responsibly
ScottishPower Renewables has previously claimed its policy was aimed at "enhancing the environment"
"At SPR we develop renewable energy responsibly, recognising the importance of biological diversity and cultural heritage, and respecting natural resources on order to enhance the environment," it said.
"Throughout the scope of our operations we implement habitat management plans and undertake a broad range of conservation management in addition to supporting and implementing research, working in partnership with a wide range of industry bodies."
SPR also said it followed an environmental management system. "The system prescribes a code of practice for ensuring environmental considerations in our work are integrated in the decision making processes of our organisation, helping achieve our environmental goals and pursue improvement," SPR added.