EADT Article 'Are Suffolk's prized landscapes 'paying for the nation's energy needs'?' by Andrew Hirst PUBLISHED: 07:30 11 December 2019 | UPDATED: 11:01 11 December 2019
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 £24 million 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.
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.
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".
The North Sea Wind Power Hub (NSWPH) has stated publicly that it wants to engage with both the Norwegian and U.K. authorities to pull them into the development of the offshore hub. As well as offshore wind expertise and access to the North Sea, both can also use oil and gas know-how to store hydrogen in offshore reservoirs and retrofit gas pipelines to transport hydrogen instead. A spokesperson for BEIS said: “The government recognizes the benefits of hybrid projects, including joint interconnector and wind projects, which may develop into efficient and cost-effective solutions to help the U.K. decarbonize. We are continuing to engage with stakeholders and developers to understand the potential benefits of these projects.”
Installing an additional 30GW within ten years will require significant changes to a range of policy frameworks, and co-operation between government and industry, writes Christopher Hopson