The Suffolk Energy Coast: A personal view by Simon Amstutz
As the manager of the staff team at the Suffolk Coast & Heaths Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), it is my role to encourage the team and those from its associate Partnership to deliver the purposes of the national designation, to conserve and enhance natural beauty.
The current and proposed developments on and adjacent to the Suffolk Coast will inevitably have an impact on the AONB. Indeed the Governments National Policy Statement on Nuclear Power that identifies Sizewell as a nuclear site notes in the Appraisal of Sustainability that there is the potential for some long lasting adverse direct and indirect effects on landscape character and visual impacts on the Suffolk Coast and Heaths AONB, with limited potential for mitigation.
If we add, and we must, the potential impacts of the many existing and proposed developments for offshore wind energy with massive onshore substations and interconnectors delivering and supplying electricity between the UK and continental Europe)that also require massive onshore infrastructure, then the Suffolk Coast faces massive development pressures. Some have estimated that over 30% of the UKs power could be generated on or passes through the nationally designated landscape.
Nationally designated landscapes, such as the Suffolk Coast & Heaths AONB, have been designated for the nation to conserve and enhance natural beauty that encompasses its landscapes, wildlife and relative tranquillity. How does this square with the development pressures we are seeing today?
Well for one the nation needs the energy to maintain the lifestyles many people enjoy. Wind power in particular has been identified as a more sustainable method of delivering the energy as is being encouraged by many. However, the cost to residents, in terms of loss of amenity and the ‘natural capital’ of the AONB is huge.
Society, through its democratic processes, has deemed the Suffolk Coast as a place to generate and transmit electricity. Many organisations have enthusiastically supported this ambition and re-branded the area as the ‘energy coast’, a movement away from the ‘nature coast’ that many once used.
It should be noted that legislation and rules apply to the designation and the purpose of the AONB to seek to maintain the natural beauty of the area. There is a balance to be struck by those who will take these decisions with a need to consider the requirement for electricity generation and transmission with the needs of the AONB. It is worth noting the AONB supports 4,655 jobs in a tourism industry that is worth over £210M per year.
The AONB team and its associated Partnership has sought to push the requirements of the nationally designated landscape at each round of consultation for the various projects. Once the natural beauty,character and relative tranquillity of the AONB has been lost it cannot be recovered. I would urge those that will take those decisions to not forget the importance of the AONB, the potential impacts on the local residents and its currently thriving tourism industry.
The Secretary of State has granted a three month extension to the Examination.
During the recent development consent order hearings (DCO), the Suffolk Energy Action Solutions group (SEAS) brought to the attention of the inspectors the fact that Scottish Power Renewables (SPR) are using “gagging” clauses in their agreements with landowners involved in the planning process for their offshore wind farms, EA1N and EA2. These clauses offer financial incentives to individuals and groups to withdraw objections and/or desist from objecting to their plans. There can be no justification for making payments or imposing conditions which undermine a statutory planning inquiry conducted in accordance with public law principles.