Communities left 'cut out' by plans for windfarms which include substation the size of Wembley stadium - MP
PUBLISHED: 12:48 12 March 2019 | UPDATED: 15:42 12 March 2019
Norfolk communities have been left "disempowered" as windfarm developers have bypassed local concerns, an MP has claimed.
Mid Norfolk MP, Conservative George Freeman, made the claim in the House of Commons on Monday, as he said the fact the building of windfarms was a national priority had allowed two firms to “cut out” campaigners, parish councils, and MPs.
Mr Freeman had called an adjournment debate over the major environmental impact of offshore windfarm projects off the Norfolk and Suffolk coast, specifically mentioning the village of Necton where a substation “the size of Wembley stadium” would be built.
He said: “The slogan that has fuelled the Brexit revolution was ’take back control’. For what have we taken back control—to be overrun by unaccountable quangos, or to act on behalf of the people whom we are here to serve?”
Three of the biggest wind farms in the world are planned off the Norfolk coast. Vattenfall wants to build two wind farms, Vanguard and Boreas, 50km east of the coast at Happisburgh, while the wind farm, Hornsea Three, will be built 120km north of the Norfolk coast by Danish energy firm Orsted.
Mr Freeman said he supported renewable energy, but there had not been any overall planning on how to handle the boom in windfarms, or how to ensure communities affected were looked after. He said: “When I talk about a substation, I am not talking about something the size of a container that hums in the rain behind a hedge; these are the size of Wembley stadium, and I shall have two of them outside one village.”
Mr Freeman said: “The key question that is being asked in our part of the world is if we are to host this incredible investment—there is up to £50bn of investment already in the pipeline; I have two wind farms connecting through my constituency and there are 10 more coming—what voice should the people of Norfolk and their elected representatives have in shaping the way in which that infrastructure is connected?
“At the moment, it looks very much like a free for all. This leaves Norfolk powered by renewable energy but disempowered when it comes to the democracy of those decisions and without any benefit.”
What are the options?
At the moment, two cable corridors will cross the county.
The first, for the two Vattenfall windfarms, will come onshore at Happisburgh then run for up to 60km, with a construction area of 45m wide, to Necton.
A second corridor, around 55km long and 80m wide, will be dug from Weybourne on the coast to a new electrical substation south of Norwich at Swardeston, for the Hornsea Three project.
This is known as a point-to-point connection, where each individual windfarm runs cables ashore before digging trenches to connect to the National Grid.
Energy secretary Claire Perry said: “This point-to-point approach is considered to have represented a saving for consumers, with an estimate being at least a £700m saving so far having been delivered by this connection.”
But Mr Freeman argues that now the number of windfarms is quickly growing, a ring main would be more appropriate.
Based offshore this links various windfarms and brings them onshore at one point, the idea being less construction work and disruption to residents.
Ms Perry said: “The developers recognise that this is an important opportunity, as we could be bringing onshore one connection, perhaps a larger oversized connection, that brings in the power of many other wind farms across different development portfolios.”
And said there was even an opportunity to connect to Europe.
The Planning Inspectorate is currently examining both Vanguard and Hornsea Three, with Boreas expected to submit its application in June.
Campaigners welcome debate
Jenny Smedley, a leading campaigner from the Necton Substations Action Group (NSAG), said she was “hopeful” following the debate on Monday, but still had reservations.
She said: “It was disappointing that other MPs were not there. But I think it was absolutely marvellous that George Freeman still persisted, he has been amazing with this.”
Mrs Smedley, who has been campaigning for a number of years, said there were other issues which Mr Freeman had not been able to raise, including congestion caused by construction work.
“Particularly what has just come to light with the HGV lorries carrying the cables,” she said. “Even the planning inspector could not get along the street because of HGVs. The road system is not good enough.”
Mrs Smedley also said she felt the energy secretary Claire Perry had been open to discussion on the topic.
But she added: “However if with all the mistakes they’ve [the developers] have made, all the people they’ve upset, all the bad decisions they’ve made, if it just goes through, I agree with George Freeman that the system is broken.”
Ruari Lean, Vattenfall’s senior project manager for Norfolk Vanguard, said: “We have listened carefully to local communities in the area and the feedback we have received has been enormously useful. That feedback includes a desire to see Norfolk benefit from our investment. We want the same thing and we will talk with stakeholders so that Norfolk maximises value from our potential investments.”