PLANNING INSPECTORATE EXAMINATION OF DCO APPLICATIONS BY SCOTTTISH POWER RENEWABLES RE EAST ANGLIA ONE NORTH AND EAST ANGLIA TWO OFFSHORE WINDFARMS
WRITTEN REPRESENTATION ON BEHALF OF THE ALDEBURGH SOCIETY
1 November 2020
As the civic society for the historic coastal town and cultural centre of Aldeburgh, with concern for the built and natural environment in the area, we are strongly opposed to these applications and urge that they be rejected by the Secretary of State. We fully support the Government’s net zero target and the moves towards renewable energy, and we believe that offshore windfarms have a particularly important role to play in this context. We cannot however support these two projects as they stand, since we believe their onshore infrastructure plans would do irreparable damage to the environment and the economy of the Suffolk coast.
SPR’s proposal to bring the power from the two windfarms ashore at Thorpeness Cliffs, and to route it via underground cables to major industrial buildings next to Friston village for the purpose of connection to the National Grid, would constitute an unjustifiable assault upon the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and adjoining areas of high landscape quality. Moreover, the cliffs are unstable and have suffered major erosion in recent years. The grassed area, woodland and heathland behind them are of major wildlife and amenity value to local people and visitors and would be massively damaged by the cable corridor with its haul road.
The scale of the buildings proposed by SPR for the Friston site would completely dominate this charming traditional small village. In addition, if, as we understand, National Grid and others have in mind that six further energy projects might also require additional buildings at the Friston site, the level of industrialisation in this fragile area would be totally intolerable. It is shocking to us that no local consultations have taken place about these additional projects, nor any DCO applications made for what clearly would constitute ‘infrastructure of national importance’.
In the light of the Government’s announcement that it proposes to go ahead with the Sizewell C nuclear power station, it is all the more critical that the cumulative effects of these energy projects will be taken into account. The seismic trauma that would be caused to Aldeburgh, surrounding villages, the coast and the AONB by the combination of construction traffic, noise and pollution if both projects were to be allowed to proceed is undisputed and simply unacceptable in a civilised society. It is one thing to allow the environment and the environs of a peaceful coast to be blighted in the national interest: to allow it twice would verge on the criminal. In this context, we welcome assurances given during the Open Floor Hearings that the cumulative effects of other energy projects will be taken into account where information about these is publicly available. (Appendix 1 prepared by SEAS lists the projects known to be in preparation).
The impact of SPR’s proposals upon the town of Aldeburgh would be extremely damaging. Both the prospective industrialisation of the area to the north of Aldeburgh and the process of construction of these facilities risk damaging the whole economy and social fabric of the town. Aldeburgh relies heavily upon visitors for the vitality of its High Street. A recent study estimated there to have been over four million trips per year to the area, creating a spend in excess of £160 million (Source: The Energy Coast report of September 2019: The-Energy-Coast-BVA-BDRC-Final Report-2019.pdf). Visitors come not only for the attractions of the beach, they include numerous bird watchers and walkers, not only in the summer peak but at all times of year. Two yacht clubs and a notable golf course also attract many visitors. The (recently upgraded) Moot Hall Museum and the Red House (long-term home and archive of Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears) are also important destinations for visitors.
In research for the preparation of the Aldeburgh Town Plan 2015 (see Appendix 2), visitors cited the beach and sea, the town’s special atmosphere, the character of the High Street, and the quality of the surrounding countryside as the major reasons for their visits. The value of peace and quiet, and a desire for minimal change, featured highly in responses.
Aldeburgh hosts a significant number of special events during the year. These include:
January/February – Chamber music series of weekly concerts in the Jubilee Hall;
March – The Aldeburgh Literary Festival, staged by the bookshop;
June – The world famous Aldeburgh Festival, founded by Benjamin Britten and now in its 73rd year, based at Snape Maltings but with many concerts in Aldeburgh;
August – The Snape Proms, a month-long series of highly diverse concerts;
August – The Aldeburgh Regatta and Carnival, started in 1927 and attracting large crowds from the surrounding area;
September – The High Tide Festival of innovative theatre;
November – The Aldeburgh Documentary Festival, hosted by the Cinema;
November – The Aldeburgh Poetry Festival;
December – The Boxing Day swim.
In addition the Jubilee Hall hosts numerous theatre and musical events throughout the year. Many of the above events involve significant numbers of predominantly young professional artists and performers, as well as diverse audiences drawn from all parts of the UK and elsewhere in Europe. Aldeburgh and the surrounding area provide accommodation through three large hotels, numerous B&Bs and letting properties, and a large caravan park. Several quality restaurants and pubs, two renowned fish and chip shops, various cafes and teashops, and three supermarkets as well as a clutch of specialist food outlets keep them fed and watered.
If SPR’s proposals for directing construction traffic from the A12 down the A1094 to the roundabout in the centre of Aldeburgh and up the Leiston Road were to be realised, much of this activity would be threatened. The roads concerned are not of sufficient width to allow two HGVs or farm vehicles to pass without difficulty in a number of places. The consequent manoeuvring would quickly cause long tailbacks, delays and frustration. The roundabout has five exits (a hazard in itself), and an adjacent much used pedestrian crossing, serving parents and children walking to and from the primary school as well as shoppers at the Co-op and Tesco, adds to the dangers. These problems would inevitably impact upon prospective visitors, who would cease to see Aldeburgh as a desirable destination. This HGV traffic would also bring noise, vibration and air pollution to Aldeburgh – the very things which many visitors come here to escape from.
While the construction process, also for the much larger one of Sizewell C, although protracted, would be time-limited, the loss of visitor interest which both it and the industrialisation of the coast would engender would endure much longer, with some businesses and cultural/social events being likely to fold or move elsewhere. This damage to our quality of life would be too hard to bear, when alternative methods of bringing offshore power into the National Grid are available. We have welcomed the BEIS Offshore Transmission Network review launched in July 2020 and have urged that these two windfarms be included in its scope. The Society deplores the fact that the onshore connections of the various windfarms off the East Anglia coast have so far been handled piecemeal, and it strongly supports the concept of an undersea grid, such as already exists on the other side of the North Sea, that would enable these connections to be combined and brought ashore in a single location, preferably on a brownfield site closer to major population centres.
It is argued by SPR that the worst effects of their onshore plans can be mitigated by tree-planting and other environmental measures and by the funding of projects of community value. The Aldeburgh Society does not believe that any such mitigation could compensate for the long-term damage and destruction which the projects in their current form would wreak. The whole concept of bringing green power ashore by means of trashing part of an AONB is misconceived. This approach, also being followed in other ways in other parts of East Anglia, is totally unacceptable for an industry claiming to be committed to safeguarding the environment and combating climate change.
The Aldeburgh Society calls for a coherent national approach to be devised for the planning and management of large energy projects. In the meantime, if the Examination of these applications cannot be paused as we have urged, they should be looked at with full awareness of all other energy projects affecting Suffolk including of course Sizewell C. Such an approach would make it abundantly clear that these projects would place too heavy a burden upon a fragile coastal area of great environmental, economic and social importance.
Annex 1: SEAS List of Future Planned Energy Projects connecting to the National Grid in the Sizewell/Friston Area of Suffolk
Annex 2: Aldeburgh Town Plan 2015
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.