Tuesday 19th July 2022

(1 month ago)

Westminster Hall
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09:30
Graham Stringer Portrait Graham Stringer (in the Chair)
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Before we start the debate, I want to say something about the exceptional heat. While the heat remains at this level, I am content for Members not to wear jackets or ties in Westminster Hall. Mr Speaker has announced similar arrangements for the Chamber. When the House returns in the autumn, Mr Speaker and the Deputies will expect Members to revert to wearing a jacket, and will strongly encourage male Members to wear a tie when speaking in the Chamber and Westminster Hall.

Bernard Jenkin Portrait Sir Bernard Jenkin (Harwich and North Essex) (Con)
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I beg to move,

That this House has considered new pylons in East Anglia.

It is my great pleasure to introduce this debate on the prospect of new pylons in the east of England, and I thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting us time to discuss the new electricity transmission infrastructure in our constituencies, which will have a high impact if it goes ahead as proposed.

I am introducing the debate barely 24 hours after the death of my mother. She loved the countryside, she loved Essex and she lived in Suffolk; and she would have wanted me to carry on with the debate, I am absolutely certain.

East Anglia Green Energy Enablement, or GREEN, is the title of the project that proposes to build a new high-voltage network reinforcement between Norwich, Bramford near Ipswich in Suffolk, and Tilbury on the Essex coast. As an MP, I have never received as many emails from my constituents about a single topic.

Today, I speak as chair of the Off Shore Electricity Grid Task Force, or OffSET, which does what it says on the tin. We are calling on National Grid to publish a fully costed offshore alternative to East Anglia GREEN. Yesterday evening, we had a helpful meeting with National Grid and Electricity System Operator, or ESO, and National Grid informally made the commitment that it would produce those costings and plans so that they can be compared with the proposal it is making. We urge National Grid to make that commitment publicly.

In Scotland and Wales, new transmission infrastructure faces a similar backlash. Scottish and Welsh MPs kindly signed up for the debate to explain their frustration over the development of infrastructure in their constituencies, and if they are not here today, that is probably because of the heat, although their moral support is certainly with us.

The environmental and societal impacts of East Anglia GREEN will fall disproportionately on my constituents in North Essex, although they will see little benefit from the new infrastructure in their own lives. On the contrary, the impact is all negative. The new transmission infra- structure is primarily required to transport electricity from offshore wind farms off the east coast and from new nuclear builds on the coast to London.

The East Anglia GREEN background document states that the reinforcement will require

“underground cabling through the Dedham Vale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty”.

That is obviously a mitigation, but it will create another problem. The construction phrase “undergrounding” will impact local habitats and archaeology—Dedham Vale is an ancient archaeological site as important as Stonehenge, only the henge in Dedham Vale was wooden, so it is not standing today, although its imprint still exists—as well as destroying valuable agricultural and arable land. Local farmers are concerned that undergrounding will disrupt soil layering and impede drainage.

The national planning framework states that development within area of outstanding natural beauty settings should be

“sensitively located and designed to avoid or minimise adverse impacts on the designated areas.”

In my constituency, I am particularly concerned about the construction to the south of the area of outstanding natural beauty, which leads to and from the proposed site of the Tendring substation. It will require a double run of cables, to the substation and then back from the substation towards London. That double run of pylons will adversely impact local communities to the north of Colchester.

I do not understand the rationale whereby because a community—Ardleigh village, in this case—already hosts existing infrastructure, it is seen to be best placed to host new infrastructure. Ardleigh has a small substation, but the planned new Tendring substation is much larger than the existing one and will cover 20 hectares, spreading into three different parishes. Two further customer substations may also be located nearby.

The House of Commons engagement team has kindly spoken to many constituents in all our constituencies about their experience of the National Grid consultation, and I thank all those who contributed, including two of my constituents. Laura, who stands to have pylons on three sides of her property, was told by a local estate agent that the value of her house could decline by 30% to 40%. That is not costed into any proposal; it is a hit that she and her family take, not something that National Grid or anyone else has to pay for. Julia, who was recently widowed, is struggling to sell her family home of 28 years because of uncertainty surrounding the East Anglia GREEN. The proposals are already blighting people’s lives.

Mark Francois Portrait Mr Mark Francois (Rayleigh and Wickford) (Con)
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I am sure I speak for all of us here today when I offer my hon. Friend my most sincere condolences on his grievous loss.

The National Grid plan does not come through my constituency of Rayleigh and Wickford, but it runs relatively close. However, having checked with my office yesterday, I was given no notification at all about this consultation and, as far as I know, neither were my constituents. Does my hon. Friend agree with me—I say this to the Minister through him—that the consultation should be rerun, so that all Members of Parliament and the people they represent can have their say?

Bernard Jenkin Portrait Sir Bernard Jenkin
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I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend for his kind words. I agree with him completely. One of my arguments is that this consultation is completely inadequate. All the respondents to the House of Commons engagement team’s inquiries expressed a strong preference for an offshore transmission system, which would avoid the blighting of farmland, and people’s homes and communities. That barely figures in the consultation and it was only in yesterday’s discussion that National Grid started to explain why it had not really considered that, but it has not published the reasons, figures, assessment or analysis as to why that has been dismissed so quickly.

James Cartlidge Portrait James Cartlidge (South Suffolk) (Con)
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My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. Did we not learn yesterday that the reason National Grid had not published those detailed figures and analysis is because it did not have them, and that its pledge to produce them by the end of the summer—to give us more information that it believes will show the justification for the decision—suggests it will be working in reverse? That is not how a consultation should be done.

Bernard Jenkin Portrait Sir Bernard Jenkin
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No, it is not, but to be fair to National Grid, it engaged openly with us and we were grateful for that engagement. I believe the people at National Grid are doing their best; of course, they are working within a regulatory framework and against expectations that have been set since the industry was privatised in the 1980s that are now completely out of date. Everybody is guilty of making mistakes, but this is not about blaming people for making those mistakes; we need to address why the mistakes are being made and put that right, without casting blame on the people who are doing their best.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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I commiserate with the hon. Gentleman on the loss of his mum. There is nobody as close to anyone as their mum, as I know, and we are very much aware of the hon. Gentleman’s sorrow at this time.

The hon. Gentleman has outlined the environmental impact. I know this is not in my neck of the woods but in East Anglia, but the issue is the same. Whenever these pylons are being put in back home, many of my constituents express concern about the health impacts. Is the hon. Gentleman aware of those issues? Have his constituents conveyed to him their concerns about the health impacts for individuals that could well be caused by pylons? For instance, he mentioned a lady in his constituency who will have pylons on three sides of her house. Surely she must have some extreme worries about that?

Bernard Jenkin Portrait Sir Bernard Jenkin
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I am not familiar with that issue, but the scientific literature on the health impact of pylons is still contested. There is no doubt, though, that they have a psychological impact, and that the psychological blight on people’s lives can be very serious.

People do not like living near pylons, which is why they tend to favour buying homes that do not have views that are blighted by pylons. It is a very sad development that National Grid is still proceeding in this direction, and I call this overground proposal a continuation of the patch and mend approach, as against the undersea option known as “Sea Link 2”. National Grid says that the “Sea Link 2” scenario would not provide the required capacity and would have required onshore transmission infrastructure as well. It should publish a like-for-like offshore alternative to East Anglia GREEN so that we can see not only what the additional costs would be, but what the additional benefits would be, and we could offset things such as property blight and damage to the environment, which is not costed into the proposal.

It is interesting to note that there is 10 times more total mileage of committed offshore transmission cabling in Scotland and the north of England than in the east of England. A constituent affected by East Anglia GREEN wrote to another National Grid consultation, and the community engagement team explained that the main reason for offshoring infrastructure from County Durham to southern Scotland was to

“significantly reduce its impact on communities.”

National Grid, again informally, now maintains that the reason for offshoring Scottish projects is that the electricity would have to cross multiple load boundaries, which is expensive. Again, it must explain that to the relevant stakeholders in detail. There is a complete lack of transparency about the process, which totally undermines public confidence in the decisions being proposed.

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart (Brentwood and Ongar) (Con)
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I extend my condolences to my hon. Friend at this time.

My hon. Friend is making an important speech. Does he agree that it is hard for us to explain to our constituents why an offshore route is not being taken when such routes clearly exist in other parts of the country? A number of colleagues in the Chamber today, and my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Kemi Badenoch), who cannot be here, feel that it is difficult for us to make the case to our constituents that the proposals are fair and right when we are not being given the evidence.

Bernard Jenkin Portrait Sir Bernard Jenkin
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That is absolutely right, but we also need to make the point that even if the evidence is made available and proves the point in favour of the present proposals, it is against benchmarks that are out of date and inadequate for the purpose. That is why I call this a patch and mend approach to the existing infrastructure, when the scale of the extra capacity required to be carried in the East Anglian grid is massive. It is a huge leap, yet there seems to be no strategic or controlling mind behind the planning of the national grid for the next 50 to 100 years. It is all on much shorter-term horizons.

Richard Bacon Portrait Mr Richard Bacon (South Norfolk) (Con)
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I extend my sincere condolences to my hon. Friend, in common with colleagues.

The lack of a controlling mind does seem to be one of the biggest problems. Does my hon. Friend agree that the only reason that the network needs to be reinforced from Dunston in the north of my constituency, going right across Norfolk and into Suffolk, is because of the perverse decision to route existing offshore wind connections to that part of the network, instead of following National Grid Electricity System Operator’s own advice, which is to accelerate the provision of an offshore transmission network, which would save up to £3 billion in capital expenditure and a further £3 billion in operating costs? Does he agree that now is the time to revisit that decision?

Bernard Jenkin Portrait Sir Bernard Jenkin
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My hon. Friend is completely right, but the real question is: to whom do we go to get it done? National Grid says it is locked into a regulatory and planning framework and has to operate in a certain way—that the assumption must be that overhead pylons are the right solution, unless there are other reasons.

The most difficult thing in the whole process is that not even the Minister for Energy, Clean Growth and Climate Change, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea and Fulham (Greg Hands), is accountable for what is being decided; he will tell us, “This is the framework and this is what we have to stick to.” He will then tell us that there is going to be a new proposal for a different regime that would arrive at different outcomes, but that is not going to affect this consultation, and we will be left with decisions being forced down corralled pathways by an outdated regulatory and planning framework.

Who is accountable, today, for the decisions that are being made? Who is it? Who should we go to, and say, “You’ve got it wrong and you can change it”? If nobody can change it, it must be my right hon. Friend the Minister who is accountable. He must accelerate the new regime, which would allow us to look much more comprehensively and capably at a strategic plan. There is no controlling strategic mind in charge of planning the national grid. It is just something that happens, through an outdated market mechanism that was designed to sweat the assets of an industry that had far too much capacity in the 1980s.

We are now in a completely different world. We need a strategic planning framework, and it should be located, accountably, within the Department, so that Members of Parliament can hold Ministers accountable for what is being decided, instead of us just being shoved off into the system, where we do not seem to have any influence.

Oliver Heald Portrait Sir Oliver Heald (North East Hertfordshire) (Con)
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May I express my condolences to my hon. Friend? I am so sorry to hear his news.

Does my hon. Friend agree that this is a wider problem? Losing the quality of our environment is a big cost for people’s wellbeing. In this case it is utilities and electricity; in Hertfordshire, it is about the chalk streams. No value seems to be given to environmental factors. We have regulators, but it is all about doing it cheaply. Does he agree that the Government need to look at the issue again, from the point of view of wellness, the environment and preserving the really valuable things in our communities?

Bernard Jenkin Portrait Sir Bernard Jenkin
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I could not agree more. We have environmental policies and net zero policies that are costing the earth, even though they are designed to save the earth—they are very important policies and we put a great deal of money into them—and yet we have other policies that despoil the environment and communities. The damage they do is not costed into the proposals.

In a new regime, the effect on property prices, the loss of agricultural land and other non-monetised costs of the proposal need to be reflected in the costs; I think we would then find that the offshore transmission system would provide better value for money, and for the environment and communities. If it was worked out properly, an offshore ring main around the east of England down to London, with its connectivity, an interconnectedness to the continent, and direct connectivity from the onshore nuclear power stations and the new offshore East Anglia array—incidentally, the development of offshore wind is being held back by the lack of capacity in the national grid—could be the quickest proposal, because we would not have the same planning issues that we are tied up with here.

Dare I mention the words “judicial review”? If my constituents go for a judicial review—they are very well funded and well organised, and we are backing them—how many years will that hold up the proposal? Would it not be better for the Government to cut through and say we should go for an offshore grid, which has public support and which people recognise will help us to achieve our net zero targets more quickly and protect the environment and communities? That is what we should do.

The main point I will leave the debate with is that public opposition to infrastructure risks undermining the roll-out of renewable and nuclear power. The Government must balance what is best for local communities with what appears to be cheapest. The current approach is not serving my constituents in Harwich and North Essex. The current proposals, and the regime they reflect, command no public confidence at all in the Government of this country, and should change.

Graham Stringer Portrait Graham Stringer (in the Chair)
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Before I call hon. Members, I offer my condolences to the hon. Member for Harwich and North Essex (Sir Bernard Jenkin). I am sure I speak for everybody in this hall in doing that.

I will call the Opposition spokesperson at 10.40 am. I do not want to set a time limit; you can do the calculations yourselves. People usually take the appropriate time when it is left to them, rather than have the Chair set a time limit. I call Jerome Mayhew.

09:51
Jerome Mayhew Portrait Jerome Mayhew (Broadland) (Con)
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I am glad to lend my support to the arguments of many MPs whose constituencies are directly affected by the proposed pylon route of East Anglia GREEN. I represent the constituency of Broadland in Norfolk, which is not directly affected. The run starts at Dunston in south Norfolk, just south of Norwich, heads through Suffolk and into Essex. The reason I wanted to join the debate is to question the rationale for reinforcing the transmission network from Norwich south in the first place.

The consultation, which has already been much criticised and will be by other contributors, starts with the assumption that there is a problem that needs to be solved. That problem is additional power being applied to the network at Dunston, at Norwich south. The power comes from offshore wind farms, both those connected in the past five years, since the previous review by Ofgem in 2015, and the huge number of additional wind farms anticipated between now and 2030, and thereafter.

We know from last year’s National Grid ESO report of an anticipated 17 GW of offshore wind constructed in the southern North sea alone—part of the 50 GW by 2030 ambition—but there is a problem. Although we won the argument for a holistic network design leading to an offshore transmission network, with the Secretary of State making that announcement on the Floor of the House, we appear to have lost the battle when it comes to East Anglia. The holistic network design comes into force from 2030 onwards, we are told, yet the connections for East Anglia affect our counties between now and 2030. It is between now and 2030 that the 17 GW will be constructed and connected.

We have here the most classic example of putting the cart before the horse. Much better would be to look again at the design for East Anglian connection, follow the advice of the National Grid ESO report, which was referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk (Mr Bacon), and create an offshore transmission network. Accelerate it; do not accept the argument that it can be put in place only by 2030 and push for 2025. If we do that, on its own estimates, there are £6 billion of savings to be made: £3 billion in reduced capital expenditure, because it is much easier for a wind farm to connect to a grid that is already offshore, and £3 billion of further operating savings between now and 2050.

Richard Bacon Portrait Mr Bacon
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Does my hon. Friend share my concern that, with this enormous extra offshore capacity that is coming, if we do not follow his suggestion of an offshore grid as soon as possible, which is Government policy, we could be faced with the current nightmare being duplicated or triplicated? In a few years it could be said, “Well, actually the pylons we installed a few years ago are not efficient, so we need even more pylons.” How lunatic would that be?

Jerome Mayhew Portrait Jerome Mayhew
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Of course, Ofgem would say, “Well, we’ve done the calculations. We know that there isn’t going to be any more offshore wind, and we think this is going to be enough.” But in 2015, when it last looked at this subject and was asked to assess whether an offshore transition network would provide value for the money to the consumer, its advice to the Government was, “No, it would not, because we will never have enough offshore wind to justify it.” Well, how wrong it was. Just seven years later, here we are bitterly ruing that short-sighted failure to make anticipatory infrastructure decisions. We could have avoided all these arguments and be leading Europe in the development of this innovative design, which now is absolutely technically possible. In fact, I have spoken, with others, to the managing director of Hitachi, who told us that this is off-the-shelf technology now.

We come back to the consultation, which has just been closed, and the position of the regulators and National Grid. Their argument is essentially that it is too late to change the decision about connection points. We already have radial connections coming into Norfolk. Given that the power is being delivered to south Norfolk, the network has to be reinforced to draw the electricity south, hence East Anglia GREEN and 112 miles of pylons. However, I invite the Minister to take a step back and look at the rationale behind the decision to write contracts to allow the offshore wind farms to connect to Norwich south. All those offers must have been subject to planning permission, because the regulator knew, or ought to have known, that the connection point did not have sufficient capacity to deal with the anticipated measures.

James Cartlidge Portrait James Cartlidge
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My hon. Friend is making an excellent, highly technical and very important speech. Is it not true that in our recent discussions with Ofgem, National Grid and others that officials from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy confirmed on the call that none of the current contracts could in any way predetermine the planning application? Therefore, the question of how the electricity is ultimately shifted through the onshore grid is still open.

Jerome Mayhew Portrait Jerome Mayhew
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My hon. Friend is absolutely right. As a question of law, it must be open because it is subject to planning.

The Minister has a great opportunity not to make the errors that we made in 2015 and to be bold about the anticipatory infrastructure that is required, which is being implemented for the holistic network design elsewhere in the country. It is ironic that the only part of the country that is not part of the holistic network design is East Anglia, given that East Anglian MPs pushed the Government into adopting the policy.

We have an opportunity to create the infrastructure that will allow us to connect without more devastating impacts on our environment and communities; to save money in the medium term, as pointed out by the National Grid ESO position paper; and to accelerate the early adoption of additional wind farms, because once the offshore transmission network in place, the connection process will actually be quicker and easier. Additionally, if we take the offshore route via “Sea Link 2” down to the Isle of Grain, there will potentially be additional benefits in relation to international interconnectors.

I question the rationale behind the assumptions that went into the consultation paper, and I make this one further request. In the very constructive call that a number of us had with National Grid Electricity Transmission Operator yesterday, it committed to generating a like-for-like offshore replacement for East Anglia GREEN, but I have one concern about that. If we literally have a like-for-like replacement, we would be taking energy from Norwich South to Tilbury. That is not the question that should be asked. The question that should be asked is what is the cost of taking advantage of an offshore route to deliver electricity to the Greater London area? It is not an exact like-for-like comparison with Dunstan in south Norfolk to Tilbury. How do we take advantage of the benefits that National Grid ESO identified in its position paper to maximise the dynamism of our electricity provision while minimising the cost to the taxpayer and to the constituents of our three counties?

10:00
Jo Churchill Portrait Jo Churchill (Bury St Edmunds) (Con)
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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.

10:10
Peter Aldous Portrait Peter Aldous (Waveney) (Con)
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It is a pleasure to serve with you in the chair, Mr Stringer. I offer my condolences to my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Sir Bernard Jenkin) for his loss. I congratulate him on his choreography to secure the debate, which is ultimately about the roll-out of zero carbon renewable energy on what is likely to be the hottest day ever recorded in the UK.

The transition to net zero provides enormous opportunities for East Anglia to be the engine room of the UK, bringing new sustainable and rewarding jobs not just for Waveney and Lowestoft, which I represent, but across the region. If we get it right, we can be a global exemplar of how to deliver the transition. That, in turn, will create enormous export opportunities.

The case for offshore wind is compelling. It is now the lowest-cost technology for generating electricity. Energy bills continue to rise, and being able to transport and deliver more offshore wind across the UK will reduce bills. We need more homegrown green electricity to move away from Russia’s influence. The weather today provides a snapshot of our future if we delay action to reduce carbon emissions.

National Grid’s East Anglia green energy enablement project, known as GREEN, should be set in the context that approximately one third of today’s UK energy demand can be met by the energy that will come into East Anglia by the end of this decade. While much work has taken place to upgrade the existing transition network, it needs significant reinforcement. GREEN is the preferred option that National Grid has worked up in accordance with the existing regulatory framework, which includes the relevant national policy statements and the so-called Holford and Horlock rules.

I acknowledge the desire of all right hon. and hon. Members, on behalf of the communities that they represent, to consider an offshore option, but it would have been disingenuous of National Grid to have consulted on such proposal, knowing that the current policy and regulatory framework within which they operate would have discounted it. In due course the Government might wish to amend the national policy statements.

It should also be emphasised that we are at an early stage of the option appraisal and assessment process, with a statutory consultation and an examination in public to follow. There is therefore an opportunity for those concerned about the proposals to engage further with National Grid, following up the meetings they had yesterday and probably before, to address their concerns.

James Cartlidge Portrait James Cartlidge
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My hon. Friend is perfectly reasonable and has great passion about offshore wind, as we all do. He is perfectly entitled to make those points, but this is not a parallel universe. There is a sub-sea link going ahead off East Anglia called Sea Link 1. Our view is that we need far more of that. To quote National Grid about the justification:

“By connecting East Anglia and Kent, Sea Link will provide the additional network capacity needed to enable the import and export of wind energy to and from Europe.”

If it is not in policy, how can we be in a parallel universe where we are going ahead with sub-sea link off East Anglia? Our view is that we need more of them to build a connected offshore grid.

Peter Aldous Portrait Peter Aldous
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I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention and I am about to address his point and highlight why that alternative is not viable under the existing framework. Taking into account the framework within which National Grid operates, I would make the following high-level comments on their proposals. First, they have presented the most economically advantageous solutions, as they are bound by the UK Government to do. To move it offshore not only is technically challenging but will cost an estimated 10 times the current proposal—a cost that will ultimately be paid by the consumer. To bury the cable along the entire route not only would have a huge impact on the environment—as 150-metre-wide trenches are dug—but would increase the cost some 14 times.

While other regions have benefitted from subsea links, the scale of the challenge in East Anglia is much larger, with significantly higher amounts of potential electricity needing to be delivered into the grid. To do that without multiple connections coming ashore, together with East Anglia GREEN, would be similar to redirecting traffic from the M25 on to the A140—that tortuous route, which East Anglians know well, that runs from west of Ipswich, via Norwich, up to Cromer.

James Cartlidge Portrait James Cartlidge
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On a point of information, as it were, the sea link that I am talking about, which my hon. Friend said cannot go ahead under policy, is approved. National Grid will be going ahead with the link; it will be going from Sizewell to Kent. It will be going ahead partly because it gives more resilience to the nuclear power station, if we are completely frank. The point is that it is a reality. The justification that National Grid uses is the same one that we want to see from Sea Links 2, 3 and 4. “Sea Link 2” was rejected. The sea link that we are talking about has been approved and the current policy framework allows approval of undersea connection off East Anglia. As far as we are concerned, the quantity is too low compared with other parts of the UK.

Peter Aldous Portrait Peter Aldous
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention and I am sure that the Minister will pick up on that in his speech. From my perspective, I think it is wrong to dismiss the concerns of the communities that the new pylons will run through, as we have heard from all colleagues today. The way forward at this early stage of the consultation process is for them to work in partnership with National Grid, developers and local and central Government to mitigate the impact. Developers are showing a willingness to do that.

In Norfolk, Vattenfall is delivering its Norfolk offshore windfarm zone by pursuing a co-ordinated approach to the onshore element of the transmission. Business organisations, such as the East of England Energy Group, Net Zero East, Opergy and the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership, together with the East Wind Offshore Cluster, are developing new ideas to help address future connection. That includes collaborative project design with shared or modular grid connections, and encouraging and facilitating hybrid projects such as wind to hydrogen and wind to storage.

I acknowledge the worries that all my colleagues are articulating on behalf of their constituents. However, there must be no holdup or delay in the roll-out of the offshore wind projects off the East Anglian coast. Already, they are making a significant contribution to the local economy. ScottishPower Renewables has a £25 million operations and maintenance base in the Hamilton dock in Lowestoft that is already running and providing jobs for people in my constituency and across Suffolk and Norfolk. ScottishPower Renewables is also planning to invest a further £6 billion up to 2030 as part of its East Anglia hub development. Such projects provide a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, creating new, exciting and well-paid jobs for local people, which is vital as part of the levelling up process. They are also critical for the overall prosperity of East Anglia and for us to play our role in mitigating the impact of climate change, which we are feeling so forcefully today.

10:19
James Cartlidge Portrait James Cartlidge (South Suffolk) (Con)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. I join others in passing my condolences to my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Sir Bernard Jenkin), who made a brilliant speech in the circumstances. We are grateful to him for continuing none the less. We are also grateful to him for chairing OffSET; I think we have had an impact.

Let us be clear what we are not debating today. No one is debating the policy of pursuing net zero—all of us East Anglian MPs support that. No one is debating the need for sovereign sources of energy, given Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Actually, no one is debating the need for an offshore grid. That is now Government policy. When my hon. Friend the Member for North Norfolk (Duncan Baker) held an Adjournment debate in November 2020, the current Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, then the Energy Minister, said to him:

“I would suggest that the argument for some form of offshore network system has been won. What is critically under discussion at the moment is the timing.”—[Official Report, 5 November 2020; Vol. 683, c. 584.]

That was November 2020. In the summer of 2020, the discussion had not even started. That shows the progress OffSET made in persuading Government to buy into an offshore grid. Last May, in my last Prime Minister’s question before being promoted, I asked the Prime Minister about an offshore grid. He said:

“My hon. Friend is spot on in what he says about the need for an offshore grid.”—[Official Report, 19 May 2021; Vol. 695, c. 698.]

So, it is Government policy.

The question before us is about the extent to which an offshore grid is being taken into account in the real life in-flight decisions being made today that are affecting our constituents, which brings us to East Anglia GREEN. We have just had the consultation on this brand new proposal for huge pylons across Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex. I attended those consultation sessions. Having met with my constituents, it is my view that they felt it was a predetermined consultation—what we would call a fait accompli.

My constituents were shown a narrow strip of land—I think it is called a swathe. The National Grid officials hoped that the discussion would be about where exactly the pylons would go within that very narrow swathe. However, my constituents and those of colleagues had envisaged that that informal consultation would be an opportunity to discuss the top-level options. Should the pylons go under the sea? Should they go over land? If over land, should they be underground just in the area of natural beauty, or elsewhere? Instead, constituents were presented with a final decision that the pylons were going in that swathe, on land—taking place, as I said earlier, as if in a parallel universe.

I also received feedback from constituents that when they asked the National Grid officials in the village halls doing the consultation about an offshore grid, they were told that it is not possible, not feasible and so on. I wrote to all constituents affected and pointed out that although officials were telling them that an offshore grid is not feasible, National Grid is committed to £3.4 billion of expenditure on undersea cabling off Scotland and the north of England, on two enormous bootstraps—undersea electricity cables.

In fact, we already have an undersea electricity cable off the west coast, from Scotland to north Wales, called the Western Link. As my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex said, the total mileage—built or committed—is about 800 miles. Off East Anglia, with Sea Link 1, which I referred to when I intervened on my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous), the mileage is about 80 miles—a ratio of 10:1. When I shared that with my constituents, they were astonished. They had been given the impression that it was not even possible; in fact, it is happening as we speak. Bootstraps have been built and others will be built. My constituents want to know why we could not get a greater share of that technology in our counties.

What particularly hurt was reading an email that was shared with me. I will not reveal the name of the person concerned—they are a member of the public. The email, which was sent to National Grid’s community engagement team on the northern project, asked:

“Would you know the reasons to go submarine rather than overground, there are many obvious advantages but would be interested to understand the primary considerations?”

The response from National Grid was:

“This is a good question. Routing the cable overground for hundreds of miles would likely require overhead lines that would cause disruption and visual impacts to many communities, ranging from County Durham to southern Scotland, where the route originates. By routing the cable under the North Sea, away from settlements, we significantly reduce its impact on communities.”

Just to be clear, the question was about the primary considerations. It is clear that, off Scotland and northern England, the primary consideration—those are the words National Grid responded to—was the protection of communities. Yet when National Grid came to Holton St Mary village hall to speak to my constituents, who said, “We want you to protect our countryside by going offshore,” National Grid said that that was not even possible—“And, by the way, we can’t even talk about it as part of the consultation.”

Jo Churchill Portrait Jo Churchill
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend is making a very powerful case. If I understand him correctly, he said that in the consultation the value and worth of communities and environment was a strong rationale, but we are being told that we have to be bound by the rationale of the NPS, which is economic and efficient. Does he feel, like me, that we are not being treated fairly?

James Cartlidge Portrait James Cartlidge
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend makes a fantastic point: we are not being treated fairly. We possibly got some explanation about that at the meeting that we held yesterday with National Grid, National Grid ESO and Ofgem. Unfortunately, it was a private meeting, inasmuch as it was not held with our constituents, but it was public to the extent that we can talk publicly about what was discussed. I would much have preferred that our constituents were involved in those discussions, but unfortunately the consultation has closed.

What is crucial is that, first, National Grid argues that the consultation covered offshore options. National Grid emailed me. It believes that it covered those options because, buried in a 120-page document that it circulated when people from National Grid were going to village halls, there is a page that says:

“The use of onshore technology. The potential for an offshore connection was considered as part of the process of defining the preferred reinforcement solution”—

it then goes through some detail—

“but concluded that the options were poorer performing on the basis of capability and poorer in cost benefit least regret terms.”

In National Grid’s view, that means that the consultation covered offshore options. When I ask whether it covered offshore options, I mean that, when my constituents went to Holton St Mary village hall, was there a picture on the wall of their preference and another picture of what an offshore option would look like? That is what a consultation means: people look at both options. Of course the option was not on the wall; it was buried in the small print.

My view is not predetermined. National Grid says that it consulted on offshore. This, therefore, is what I am going to do. I will write to all of my affected constituents and ask them, “Did you participate in the consultation, and if so do you feel that it covered offshore? Do you feel that you had a say in the top-level choice of going overground or under sea?” My thoughts are not predetermined—I will see what they say—but my view is that the consultation did not cover it. There was no transparency on the justification.

There is a reason that there is no transparency, which we discovered yesterday. My hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex is absolutely right that the people at National Grid are doing their job, and we should not cast blame. That is not the point; we are here to represent our constituents. National Grid said yesterday that given the concern about what is happening in Scotland and the sense of unfairness, it would publish a detailed assessment of an offshore option later in the summer. Why will that be published later in the summer? Because it has not been done. There has been no detailed assessment of an offshore option.

How on earth did National Grid conclude that it cannot go offshore? Let us figure that one out. That will answer the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St Edmunds (Jo Churchill), because I am pleased to say that the meeting was attended by Akshay Kaul, the director of networks at Ofgem. The argument from National Grid is that the framework precludes it from looking at an offshore option. The regulator, Mr Kaul, said that is not correct: the framework does not preclude looking at offshore options; all the infrastructure projects should be looked at on a case-by-case basis. That is what he said to us yesterday, very transparently. How can something be looked at on a case-by-case basis if the detailed work has not been done?

National Grid also said to us something that goes back to the brilliant point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Broadland (Jerome Mayhew): that the work it will do will show that an offshore option is not possible. There is a word for that. I have only recently resigned as the courts Minister, and must be careful what I say—I am conscious of the judicial arm—but that is predetermination if ever Members have heard of it: “We will do the work, but here is the answer it will tell you.”

I would like that report, first, not to be undertaken by National Grid, but to be commissioned by the Government and undertaken by an independent expert who is not predetermined. Secondly, I would like it—as my hon. Friend the Member for Broadland said—not to draw a line from the closest oceanic point next to Norwich down to somewhere in the south of England, for instance near Tilbury or the Isle of Grain, but rather to draw what we all want, which is a mesh of offshore connections: in other words, not just Sea Link 1, but Sea Links 2, 3 and 4, which would give us 6 GW, which is what the pylons would give us. Crucially, as my hon. Friend said, we would then have the nodes that give us the interconnectivity with the continent, so we can import and export, and be the Saudi Arabia of offshore wind.

In other words, we want the consultation to be reopened, not to look at this basic and expensive option, which has had no work put into it, but to ask an independent consultant, “What if we used this connectivity as the foundation stone for a proper offshore grid in East Anglia?”, which is what we believe Government policy should be.

There is one final thing that the report needs to do. It needs to include my constituents. We know constitutionally that none of us is here in our own right. We are here only by virtue of the fact that we have won an election and we represent our constituents. They have not been involved in any of the discussions. There was no meaningful consultation on offshore as far as I am concerned. This has to be reopened. That does not mean giving us a report; it means going back to Holton St Mary village hall with the results and explaining to people why it may not be possible to go offshore, but being transparent about that. That is what democracy is all about.

10:30
Richard Bacon Portrait Mr Richard Bacon (South Norfolk) (Con)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Stringer. I reiterate the condolences of my colleagues to my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Sir Bernard Jenkin) on his loss. That was a brilliant speech by my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk (James Cartlidge), and I associate myself with nearly everything that nearly everyone has said. I am smiling at my constituency neighbour—my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St Edmunds (Jo Churchill)—whose constituency is behind Tesco and Morrisons in my constituency. We are neighbours, but if I were to go a few hundred yards to the east, my neighbour is a different Member of Parliament. I know Wortham Ling well—I walk my dogs near there.

I am interested in two aspects of this important debate. First, planning permission cannot be assumed and therefore a route cannot be assumed. I may have misinterpreted this, but that appeared to have come as a bit of a surprise to the Minister. He certainly looked round in alarm when one of my colleagues made that point. The second aspect is about time. My hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex mentioned judicial review. I do not want to repeat anything that has been said, but it is clear in the development in recent years of English administrative law—common law—that there is a law of consultation known as the Gunning principles, which are set out clearly and helpfully by the Local Government Association. There are four principles and they derive from a case in which Judge Stephen Sedley was in charge of the court: Regina v. Brent London Borough Council, ex parte Gunning—that is why they are called the Gunning principles. They are now clearly established and applied by the courts.

The first principle is that the proposals are still at a formative stage. The second is that there is sufficient information to give intelligent consideration. The third is that there is adequate time for consideration and response. The fourth, which has become increasingly important in recent cases, as opposed to earlier cases where the first three principles were given more weight, is that

“‘conscientious consideration’ must be given to the consultation responses before a decision is made”.

My hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) made a point about time. He said that “there must be no holdup” in the development of offshore wind. Amen to that—we all agree. The one way we can be absolutely sure there will be a huge holdup is if the lawyers get hold of this. If the Minister wants to be bogged down in judicial review and legal battles for years to come with no progress towards our net zero targets, all he has to do is ignore what all of us are saying, and I guarantee that that is where he will end up.

James Cartlidge Portrait James Cartlidge
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

There is another email about the reasoning for the eastern link, and another reason was given was about the speed of delivery of an offshore link against the speed of building pylons. It says:

“The subsea link between Torness in East Lothian and Hawthorn Pit in County Durham needs to be in place by 2027. The link between Peterhead in Aberdeenshire and Drax in North Yorkshire is needed by 2029. While onshore AC overhead line options were considered, those were discounted because they would not be deliverable in the timescales that were required.”

Does that not show that going undersea can actually be quicker?

Richard Bacon Portrait Mr Bacon
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I have no doubt that my hon. Friend is right. If we want efficiency, effectiveness and economic progress, we should listen to the people calling for an offshore grid. After all, as several of our hon. Friends have said, it is already Government policy. What we need to do is follow through with the concomitant decisions that should apply when something is Government policy, rather than ignoring this area which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St Edmunds said, will become the Saudi Arabia of England for offshore generation.

To conclude, because I do not want to overrun the time limit that you have set, Mr Stringer, we must make it clear that our constituents do not feel that they have been properly consulted or that offshore options were given any meaningful consideration. We want to be sure that any detailed report on offshore options is meaningful and thorough, involves our constituents fully and is written by independent experts. We also want it to embrace the idea of taking a first step towards a broad-scale East Anglian offshore grid, with, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk said, Sea Links 2, 3 and 4 carrying 6 GW and multi-noding with international interconnectors, in order to add further value, which must feature in any overall holistic cost assessment.

If we want to make progress on this, as everyone agrees that we need to do, particularly in light of the recent invasion of Ukraine by Russia, and if we want to become more energy independent, more quickly, and hasten the drive towards net zero, which every single person in this room would like to see happen, we should listen to my hon. Friends, and the Minister should too.

10:35
Kerry McCarthy Portrait Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab)
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It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair as always, Mr Stringer. I congratulate the hon. Member for Harwich and North Essex (Sir Bernard Jenkin) on bringing the debate and extend my commiserations to him on the death of his mother.

When I found out that I was speaking for the Labour Front Bench in this debate and saw that the subject was posited as local opposition to renewable energy projects, the first word that came to mind was nimbyism. Such debates can be about people not wanting something that spoils their view, but it has been made very clear that the debate today is not about that.

In his opening remarks, the hon. Member for Harwich and North Essex was quite right to point out that it does matter if there is an impact on people’s house prices or on the aesthetic appeal of living in the countryside. We should not dismiss those things lightly. He also spoke about food production and the hon. Member for Bury St Edmunds (Jo Churchill) spoke eloquently about the importance of regenerative farming. Ukraine affects this debate, as it affects so many things, both in our energy security and in our resilience, including the sort of crops that could be grown in East Anglia. We ought to be doing far more to support farming there.

The frustration that the hon. Member for Harwich and North Essex expressed with the current processes and the discussions that have taken place was clear, and he talked about the lack of national control. Does the Minister think that the process is accountable and transparent? Could it be improved? Do we need a longer-term, broader-ranging strategy from the National Grid?

There were calls for National Grid to publish costed offshore alternatives to East Anglia GREEN. I welcome the fact that a meeting took place yesterday. That sounds as if it was a productive step on the way to trying at least to put more options in front of East Anglian communities, and I welcome that.

We heard from the hon. Members for Broadland (Jerome Mayhew) and for Bury St Edmunds that this was a case of putting the cart before the horse. It came across very genuinely that this is not about people trying to delay something by throwing in lots of obstacles, almost like “Wacky Races”, where lots of rocks are thrown in front of the vehicles so they will not reach the finish line. These are genuine concerns that are being raised.

The hon. Member for Bury St Edmunds talked about the broader issue of energy resilience and critical national infrastructure. This is one local example of how we need to get it right but, as she says, we need more clarity on the issue nationally as well.

I was interested to hear the comments made by the hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous), not least because, having served on the Environmental Audit Committee with him, I know that he is genuine in his commitment to environmental concerns. He said that there should be no hold-ups to rolling out offshore wind, and I entirely agree with him. There was a debate with the hon. Member for South Suffolk (James Cartlidge) about whether the existing framework would permit alternative options to be considered. I will leave it to the Minister to go into who is right and what has been said about that, but that goes to the need for greater transparency in the process.

The hon. Member for South Suffolk also said that all East Anglian MPs support net zero. Having listened to some of the contributions to the Conservative leadership contest, I am not entirely sure whether the hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Kemi Badenoch) would say the same, but that is a debate for another day. The hon. Member for South Suffolk said that the consultation was inadequate and did not cover the offshore options, which were buried in the small print. Again, I will leave it to the Minister to say whether he feels that the consultation was adequate. The hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr Bacon) also said that the consultation was not adequate and warned about getting lawyers involved, which we would probably all want to avoid. I speak as a lawyer myself.

Let me conclude because it is important that the Minister has plenty of time to reply. The need to make the shift to low-carbon energy is real and urgent, and the push for 50 GW of offshore wind by 2030 is very much part of that. In recent weeks, the Government have been criticised by the Climate Change Committee for the inadequacy of their plans to reach net zero, although they are doing better on energy than on some other aspects, and only yesterday, Friends of the Earth successfully brought a court case against the Government, which will require them to rethink their net zero strategy.

I hope that there will be a revised strategy as a result of the court case and the criticisms of the Climate Change Committee, and that must include a big push to get the right low-carbon infrastructure in place. Opposition to onshore wind has been a disaster for efforts to ramp up renewable energy capacity in the UK, and it is now easier to build a road than to put up an onshore wind turbine in this country.

On this project, while I bow to the local MPs over the points that they want to put on the table, it appears to me that we need the strengthening cable to facilitate the landing and transportation of power from new wind farms. Undergrounding has been discussed, although I note that the hon. Member for Harwich and North Essex said that undergrounding would not work as well in practice as in theory. In Scotland, quite a bit of undergrounding has been done, but the hon. Gentleman was concerned that it would still have an impact on the Dedham Vale area of outstanding natural beauty. There was also discussion of whether alternative offshore routes are viable. I wait to hear from the Minister whether he thinks they really are an option.

I have a final question for the Minister: if there were additional costs associated with pursuing the offshore route, would they fall on customers through the transmission element of bills? I hope that that would not be the case. We all know the impact of rising energy prices, so will the Minister clarify whether, if a more costly option were deemed appropriate, for all the reasons the MPs here today have mentioned such as there being a problem with the cheaper option that is being posited, the Government would provide direct support to avoid that cost falling on customers through their bills?

James Cartlidge Portrait James Cartlidge
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

To clarify, we are not saying that options with, for example, a higher theoretical up-front capital cost are necessarily more expensive over the long term. The key issue is the horizon over which we look. We feel that, based on National Grid’s own figures, if we had a co-ordinated grid, that would be much cheaper in the long term for constituents.

Kerry McCarthy Portrait Kerry McCarthy
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I pose this question to the Minister: if a different option were adopted that turned out to be more expensive, would that cost be passed to the customer? I am by no means in a position to judge which option is more expensive.

Let me conclude. There is no perfect solution, and I am pleased that discussions are taking place and that National Grid has met MPs. I hope that those discussions continue, but the ball is now in the Minister’s court for him to respond to the Members present for today’s debate.

Graham Stringer Portrait Graham Stringer (in the Chair)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

May I ask the Minister to leave a couple of minutes for the hon. Member for Harwich and North Essex (Sir Bernard Jenkin) to make his winding-up speech?

10:44
Greg Hands Portrait The Minister for Energy, Clean Growth and Climate Change (Greg Hands)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer, and I begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Sir Bernard Jenkin) on securing this important debate. I offer my sincerest condolences on the death of his mother. I knew my hon. Friend’s father, who was a distinguished former Environment Secretary, and I feel sure I met his mother in connection with his father. I know how tragic the death of a parent can be, and I genuinely send him my deepest condolences at this difficult time.

My hon. Friend has continued to be a champion for his constituents on this topic. He said that he has never received as many emails as he has recently on this issue. I will be sure to continue to engage with National Grid on this matter, and I will ensure that it engages with my hon. Friend.

I congratulate my right hon. and hon. Friends on their engagement. It is always impressive to see MPs closely in touch with their communities. I am glad that yesterday they met National Grid—NG ESO and NG ET—and Ofgem. If I am not able to respond on all the points that they raised in the 15 minutes available, I am sure we will meet again.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk (James Cartlidge) wrote to me just over a week ago, and I want to address the questions and concerns in his letter. I will begin by introducing the topic and setting out the wider context. The British energy security strategy sets out bold plans to scale up and accelerate affordable, clean and secure energy, made in Britain for Britain, so that we can shift decisively away from expensive fossil fuels. That includes the ambition for 50 GW of offshore wind by 2030.

In the fourth contracts for difference auction earlier this month, five offshore wind projects totalling 7 GW won contracts at a record low strike price of £37.35 per megawatt-hour. To put that in perspective, on 7 July—the very same day as that result—the prevailing wholesale electricity day-ahead price was £230 per megawatt-hour. My hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) made the point well that we are No. 1 in Europe in terms of our offshore wind capacity, and the contributions to the local economy in East Anglia should not be underestimated. That confirms the fact that positioning offshore wind as a central pillar of our energy security strategy is the right call, and accelerating its deployment will be key to addressing Britain’s long-term energy needs.

I welcome the support of my hon. Friend the Members for Broadland (Jerome Mayhew), my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk and others for the strong contribution that offshore wind makes to the UK’s energy needs. Currently, it produces 11.4 GW. However, connecting that cheap, green energy and transporting it to where it is needed in East Anglia and across the country will require more electricity network infrastructure, both onshore and offshore, than we have today. We need that infrastructure to be built more quickly. Timescales for delivering transmission network infrastructure can be as long as 11 to 14 years—often far longer than the time taken to deliver the generation that is being connected. That constraint is already biting: about 5% of wind generation is curtailed, which means that its output is reduced because there is not enough capacity on the network to transport it. That could increase to 15% to 20% in the mid-2020s as wind generation increases.

How do we connect that energy? Unfortunately, placing all new infrastructure offshore is not feasible, as I think we would all agree, as ultimately the electricity needs to get to where the demand is, which is onshore. Therefore, even with offshore cables, infrastructure such as substations is required onshore at landing points.

Let me be up front with my right hon. and hon. Friends: the new projects proposed in East Anglia, such as East Anglia GREEN, are considered nationally significant infrastructure projects, as defined in the Planning Act 2008. Any project of that nature comes to the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, who will consider a broad range of planning matters. That is a quasi-judicial process, of course, and I am sure that my right hon. and hon. Friends will understand that I cannot comment on specific points, which will almost certainly be submitted during the planning process, but I will try to deal with as many points as I can in the available time.



My hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex called it a patch and mend approach. I disagree with that, but there is a big transformation coming up through the Energy Security Bill, which was published only last week and is due to have its Second Reading in the House of Lords today. It includes within it a future system operator, which will take a long-term view of the whole energy system. That is one of the key reforms in the Energy Security Bill that will come before the Commons in the autumn. Two of the four pathfinder projects that have come out of the holistic network design process, which is part of the offshore transmission network review, which I will come on to explain, are actually located in East Anglia.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St Edmunds rightly pointed out that there is a presumption in favour of overhead pylons, but there are still broad overall factors involved in making these decisions. Those broad factors include the environmental impacts, the community impacts, the cost to bill payers, which I am sure all my hon. and right hon. Friends would agree is a significant factor, deliverability and speed. Those are all relevant factors when this planning is carried out. The significantly increased cost of undersea or underground cables needs to be taken into account, and the environmental impacts of different options need to be carefully weighed up. For example, undersea cabling can have a significant impact on marine life.

James Cartlidge Portrait James Cartlidge
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I appreciate what my right hon. Friend is saying—he is being very clear with us—but does he appreciate that what we learned from National Grid yesterday is that it will, over the summer, undertake a detailed assessment of a potential offshore alternative? In other words, yes, a range of factors can be considered, but that cannot have happened in the East Anglia GREEN consultation because there has been no detailed assessment of an alternative. On that basis, I hope he can understand why our constituents feel that the consultation should be reopened.

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. Unfortunately I was not able to be at the meeting yesterday, but I will carefully look at a read-out of what was said at that meeting and study it. In any case I need to respond to his letter of 7 July, so I will make sure that I take on that specific point as far as I am able.

In general, my hon. Friend makes the good point that there is undersea cabling around the country. He rightly points out connections, for example, between Scotland and Wales, between Scotland and England and so on, but it is worth pointing out that East Anglia GREEN will deliver 6 GW of extra network capacity. I think my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney made that point. The latest offshore cable technology is capable of carrying up to 2 GW of capacity. When we are looking at the sheer amount of energy that needs to be transmitted, it is not necessarily comparing like with like. To deliver the equivalent of East Anglia GREEN offshore would require at least three 2 GW cables. We can all look at a map and see where connections are, but that does not tell the whole story.

Jo Churchill Portrait Jo Churchill
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The nub of it is that we have not been given these options. The Minister spoke about environmental impact and the other considerations that were taken into account, but as the MP trying to help inform my constituents, I certainly have never seen any of that information or data; I do not know whether anybody else has. Yesterday it was definitely inferred that some of this acquiring of information would need to happen in short order.

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
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I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. I have spoken about yesterday, and I repeat my pledge to hold as soon as I can a further meeting with colleagues to consider what was said and the progression of these matters, while bearing in mind the quasi-judicial planning nature of the Secretary of State’s decision.

In July my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, when he was Energy Minister, launched the offshore transmission network review, or OTNR, to improve the level of co-ordination in how we connect offshore and ensure that future connections are delivered in the most appropriate way. I think itwas my hon. Friend the Member for Broadland who asked, could we not have foreseen in 2015 the great need for this work? To some extent, that is not an unfair point. In many ways, in this country we are victims of our incredible success with our offshore wind capacity, which is the largest in Europe. It was the largest in the world until last summer, when China overtook us. It really is the envy of the world, and others come to see us. The United States is scaling up its capability and other European countries are coming to see us and so on. So he makes a fair point.

Earlier this month, we reached a significant milestone in the review with the publication of a major deliverable—the holistic network design, to which my hon. Friends have referred. In addition, we recently announced Nick Winser CBE as the UK’s first Electricity Networks Commissioner. He will play a pivotal role in ensuring that we have the right infrastructure to transmit electricity to where it is needed.

I pay tribute my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St Edmunds for always being engaged on all matters environmental during her time at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. When it comes to commercial and industrial and energy resilience, which is very important, I refer her to the evidence that I gave yesterday to the Joint Committee on National Security Strategy, which goes into those matters in some detail.

The HND sets out the need for about £54 billion of onshore and offshore transmission infrastructure, new and upgraded, which will be needed to deliver our 2030 ambition. That is the first time that those have been co-ordinated to ensure better outcomes for communities, the environment and bill payers. Although a new requirement for onshore network reinforcement has been identified in the HND, no decisions have yet been taken on how best to do that. All projects that come forward as a result of the HND will be subject to the relevant democratic planning processes to ensure that local stakeholders get a say on the developments and that the impacts are mitigated as far as possible. I have already mentioned the pathfinder projects.

I will deal with three or four other points that arose in the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Broadland asked whether connection contracts were subject to planning. They are, but of course they are not yet in the planning system. There is a statement from the five projects in East Anglia that are working together on offshore co-ordinated options, as he knows, and utilising changes in the offshore transmission network review process. That will be supported by a £100 million offshore co-ordination support scheme, which will be launched later this year.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St Edmunds asked about the NPS, which will be reconsulted on later this year. I expect that that will apply to this project. MPs will have a chance to have an input on the NPS process. I expect both the current and future NPS to provide the flexibility for trade-offs between cost and impact and between offshore and onshore options to be brought forward where appropriate. That is a matter for National Grid Electricity Transmission and Ofgem. My hon. Friend also asked about the environment impact assessment for East Anglia GREEN, which will cover the impacts on agriculture. We expect farmers and landowners to receive compensation for any loss or impact on crop production.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk wants a study on the offshore grid to be done independently. In accordance with its transmission licence, it is NGET’s responsibility to develop and put forward options to reinforce the network. BEIS is the ultimate decision maker for those nationally significant infrastructure projects.

James Cartlidge Portrait James Cartlidge
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NGET could commission an independent expert under its contract.

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
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I am sure that National Grid Electricity Transmission will have noted that point from the debate. If my hon. Friend did not make that point yesterday, I am sure he could make that to them. I must be careful about the role in the quasi-judicial process in relation to NGET’s responsibility.

We have covered the holistic network design and the pathfinder projects, so I will allow my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex a couple of minutes in which to respond. I look forward to continuing engagement with my right hon. and hon. Friends on these topics. I will respond in writing to the letter of 7 July as soon as possible. I will also look at what was said yesterday and any other points from the debate that I have not been able to respond to.

10:58
Bernard Jenkin Portrait Sir Bernard Jenkin
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I am most grateful for your chairmanship of these proceedings, Mr Stringer, and to the Minister for his response and the care that he has taken over the matter. I am extremely grateful for the kind words that everybody has expressed to me today and for the high quality of all the contributions to the debate.

I am still very unhappy, because the Minister is effectively still disclaiming responsibility for the process that we are in and holds out no prospect of being able to change it. Environmental costs and community disbenefits are not costed into the scheme in any way; let us compare that with how much extra has been spent on High Speed 2 to mitigate its environmental and community disbenefits. Why are the Government not taking responsibility for the national grid in the same way as they take responsibility for railway or road development? It is inconsistent.

For the Minister to say, “Oh well, I’ll see what was said in that meeting,” and, “I can’t say anything because of the quasi-judicial nature of the process,” underlines that nobody is in charge and there is no strategic mind. It is for the Government to come to Parliament and ask for the powers necessary to be responsible, so that we can do something about this runaway train that is about to wreck the environment and communities—

Graham Stringer Portrait Graham Stringer (in the Chair)
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Order.

Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 10(6)).