Jo Churchill (Bury St Edmunds) (Con)
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Broadland (Jerome Mayhew). I extend my sympathies to my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Sir Bernard Jenkin), whose parents enjoyed their later years in my lovely constituency. The whole town extends its love to him and his family over these next weeks.
I am pleased to see the Minister in his place. I am sure he will remark that many hon. Members have met him on several occasions recently. We are grateful for that engagement, but I will leave him with the thought that that is our engagement so far. As he has heard from my right hon. and hon. Friends, this system is not suitable for our constituents. Arguably, given our recent challenges with energy, as my hon. Friend the Member for Broadland pointed out, we need to future-proof ourselves and understand what we need for the country.
My main focus is on how the proposals fail to offer choice and the lack of meaningful consultation with my constituents. Like many, I fully support the work being undertaken to achieve net zero. Indeed, looking at the temperatures that we are currently working in and enjoying, it is essential to move towards adaptation as well. Low-carbon energy production has a crucial role, and the contribution of the east of England is likely only to grow, given the likelihood of Sizewell C, further offshore generation and the new generation of sea-tethered wind farms that could give us greater capacity. Our 4,100 MW of generation today is destined to rise to 25,000 MW by 2030, but as my hon. Friend pointed out, we have slightly put the cart before the horse. I would gently say that we are talking about energy resilience and critical national infrastructure, so we should take a step back and think about what we are doing here.
The National Grid’s proposals display little thought or care. In the meeting yesterday, for which we were all extremely grateful, it straight away blamed the current regulatory framework—the national policy statement. The reason that it could not offer anything other than pylons was that that was the most economic and efficient way of doing it. I put it to the Minister that we need to halt and understand the problem. We need to look at the NPS and its criteria in relation to energy, add the east of England to the holistic network design, and offer true choice.
As it stands, Bury St Edmunds faces having 50 metre-high pylons tearing through it, as do the constituencies represented by my right hon. and hon. Friends. From the maps that the National Grid has provided, one could be forgiven for thinking that the stretch from mid-Suffolk had been drawn by merely placing a ruler on the map and drawing a pencil line down one side.
The electricity generated on the east coast is destined—demanded—to keep the lights on in London. While it is important to give that assurance for the east of England, we want protection for our communities, our countryside and the food that we produce for the nation. We are informed by those at NG ESO that multiple cables will be needed, but we have seen no impact statement or costings, so we feel that we are being taken for a ride. The only opportunity is for the deliverer, not our constituents. As announced yesterday, subsea transmission is good enough to pull energy from Morocco to the UK, and it is good enough for the north of England, so it should be good enough for us.
Our counties are not only good at generating energy; we are three of the nation’s largest producers of food to give our people energy. What assessment has been made of the impact on that? I have received a significant amount of correspondence from constituents who are incredibly concerned about East Anglia GREEN and their strong local objection is echoed throughout the route. My right hon. Friend the Minister will know from his own constituents how passionate locals are about infrastructure projects. Mine are no different. This is precious to us.
I have visited part of the affected area in my constituency. As I drove around my constituent Tom Rash’s farm, he pointed out the regenerative way in which he farms and how erecting pylons sat at odds with our objective of supporting food production and enhancing food security, and directly contradicts the objectives coming out of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. As I looked at Wortham Ling, a site of special scientific interest on Mr Rash’s farm that is overseen by Suffolk Wildlife Trust and managed as a nature reserve, the acid grassland and dry heath developed on glaciofluvial drift deposits—[Interruption.]—yes, one of those early in the morning—offer a unique area of natural beauty. As we look up at the big skies from Wortham Ling or the local well-attended tennis club or the church that stands adjacent to the farmyard, the pylons will bear down on us and give us no benefits in our community. This is precious to us; it is valuable.
The early opportunities team at National Grid appear to see the area as open land, free to cut through, and has given little consideration to anything but the bottom line and what the book says. Straight routes are cheaper; we are being serviced on the cheap. Due to the sparse population, we may be seen as an easy hit. Can the Minister confirm in his summing up if there has been a full impact assessment of overground and underground pylons, undersea options, the hit to food production and the environmental impact?
If we are just being seen as an easy early opportunity, that is unacceptable. From the correspondence that I and others have received, it is clear that subsea transmission is overwhelmingly preferred. However, I say again: we have not been given the chance to choose. Who is accountable, as my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex asked? I share my constituents’ views, because offshore generation is only going to grow and we should ensure a system that is future-proofed. Indeed, looking at Octopus’s latest announcement on Xlinks, there is more likelihood that renewables will come to us from different parts of the world. The Dutch are very high generators of renewables. Surely the ability to connect around the country would be a much more sensible approach?
Allowing those interconnectors to be put offshore would be a move forward, but I am led to believe no alternatives to the Norwich-to-Tilbury proposals have been fully explored. They appear to have been discarded without a full explanation as to why they are not viable. The recent consultation by National Grid offered no alternative to overland transmission. Indeed, many of the questions were somewhat irrelevant as they were closed, such as “Do you want green energy?” Who is going to answer anything but yes to that? There has been no ability to put forward a different view. To be frank, it was a fait accompli. It serves no purpose but to reinforce a decision that has already been made—“Sorry, overhead pylons are the default and that is what you are getting”—and to silence that local voice.
To add to the local incredulity regarding the consultation, it has now become apparent that elsewhere in the country, as others have said, subsea transmission is being used precisely to avoid impact on local communities. This is all starting to feel incredibly unfair to the east of England, particularly given our status as a net contributor to Her Majesty’s Treasury: we give you our money, we give you our energy, we grow your food, yet we are not worthy of a proper consultation or protection.
I want to see complete transparency about the allocation of funding for subsea transmission, particularly as the east of England is a major power generator for the country, with connections to the continent to transmit energy when needed. It was not included in the holistic network design and that feels like a mistake. The Minister and I have discussed the meaning of “holistic” before: it means dealing with or treating the whole of something and not just a part. We cannot have a three-quarters holistic network design, which is what we have at the moment. More work on inclusion in the HND is required. We are not nimbyists in Suffolk; we are pragmatic. However, we want a fair consultation. All this can be avoided if we are treated in the same manner as other parts of the country, with subsea transmission replacing overland proposals, or we are at least given a choice.
My constituents and I want change. We want to be part of a holistic network design. We want a Government who stop and think and take stock. We want a Government who future-proof us. A sensible Government will do that. Demand will only grow as we need to be cool in the summer and warm in the winter. With any infrastructure investment, it is imperative to get it right first time. As the Minister knows, the local voice is important. Please listen to ours.