In Parliament many East Anglian MPs spoke at a debate on Tuesday 19 July about National Grid’s pylon plans. You can watch it here.
MPs addressed their concerns to Greg Hands, Minister of State at the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, in the hope that the Government could be persuaded to take control of proposals by National Grid (NG) for 180 km of cable on 50m pylons through Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex.
Local MPs speak
Sir Bernard Jenkin, Mark Francois, James Cartlidge, Alex Burghart, Richard Bacon, Jo Churchill, Peter Aldous and Jerome Mayhew all expressed strong views about National Grid’s ‘East Anglia GREEN’ plan. Most want the consultation re-run.
Several references were made to the irony of conducting the renewables debate on what was the hottest day ever recorded in the UK, which Peter Aldous said was ‘snapshot of our future’ if we delay reducing carbon emissions.
Sir Bernard said that he’d received more letters from constituents on pylons than on any other issue. He spoke passionately about potential social, archeological and environmental impacts of the pylons, which bring no local benefits as the energy is destined for London.
Most MPs said that it had been presented to residents as a single method proposal, with no alternatives to the overland route; in short, as a fait accompli.
‘Who is responsible?’
There were fervent pleas of ‘Who is accountable?’ due to not knowing who to approach for a comprehensive review.
Many MPs made the point that in North East England and Scotland, for example, the views of, and effect on, communities had been considered, and subsea routes had been chosen instead of overland. Alex Burghart asked for the evidence used when selecting the single East Anglian route.
Jo Churchill spoke for farmers whose land would be severely affected, observing that the UK relies on East Anglia for a significant proportion of food production, which could be reduced if agricultural land was given over to construction. She also described a nature reserve of rare acid grassland which may be decimated. She was critical of NG’s public consultation questionnaire for leading, closed questions such as ‘Do you support green energy?’
Out-of-date regulatory framework
Sir Bernard described how plans are hamstrung by the requirements of a decades-old regulatory framework, which needs an urgent overhaul. Peter Aldous observed that the plans are in accordance with the existing framework and he felt that NG could therefore not have consulted on different proposals. However, James Cartlidge remarked on a subsea route (Sealink 1) approved to connect East Anglia and Kent. Richard Bacon asked for a new regime to be rapidly accelerated so that GREEN could be formulated under improved requirements.
As James Cartlidge observed, East Anglians seem to be living in a ‘parallel universe’. He later mentioned that NG are this summer undertaking a detailed offshore alternative assessment; therefore the one-method consultation should be re-opened.
There was apprehension about the possibility of lawyers and a judicial review if this plan is not ‘got right’, because this would delay energy transmission for years when the need is urgent.
Labour’s Shadow Minister for Climate Change & Net Zero, Kerry McCarthy, agreed that everyone there wanted net zero (although she was somewhat doubtful about Saffron Walden’s MP, Kemi Badenoch, after hearing her contributions to the leadership contest debates). Kemi Badenoch was not present.
The Minister’s response
In answer, Greg Hands described the urgent need for more renewables – 50 Gigawatts by 2030 – and how infrastructure must be quickly built. Energy is being harvested quicker than transmission methods can be constructed. Offshore cables have the capacity to carry two GW, but output will be six GW, so maybe three cables would be needed? He expected that farmers would receive compensation for land impact and lost crop production. He spoke generally, making no commitments, but agreed to further meetings. In Sir Bernard’s brief closing response, he was unsatisfied. He said the Minister was still ‘disclaiming responsibility’ for NG, unlike with roads or rail, and that environmental impacts aren’t prioritised or mitigated as with HS2. He asserted that the government must stop the ‘runaway train’ threatening to wreck communities’.