The recent workshop held in Necton by Vattenfall (at which I opened the discussions and spoke) was a helpful step forwards in the process that is their Norfolk Offshore Wind Zone Community Benefit Fund.
Campaign Overview - Background
As a long-time advocate of the move towards renewable energy, I am a major supporter of Offshore Wind Energy – and have previously worked with local communities to ensure that the associated onshore infrastructure is located in the right place.
Between 2010-2013, I attended a number of public meetings in Little Dunham to listen to local concerns about Dudgeon’s proposals to build a new substation on top of a hill in the village – a location that would have meant it was an eyesore for several other communities in the area. By working tirelessly together, we managed to agree with Dudgeon that the substation would instead be located at a low-lying site in nearby Necton and, therefore, avoided any long term disillusionment with offshore wind energy in the area. (To read more click here, here and here).
That’s why, when I became aware back in 2017 that Vattenfall UK were hoping to build the two substations for their proposed Norfolk Vanguard and Norfolk Boreas offshore wind farms in Necton also, I was optimistic about working with them to negotiate a compromise with the community that would see the substations situated in the right place, and in return for substantial community benefits to compensate the local villages for the massive impact and disruption that they would face. (Read more here)
(From my conversations with residents and councillors in the village, the number one issue that always comes up is the horrendous A47 Necton/Dunham junction and the urgent need for improvements to be made there. It was my hope to persuade Vattenfall that this should form the basis of a package of benefits for the village – should their applications eventually prove successful)
Unfortunately however, such compromise has not yet been possible. Despite a willingness by the local community to engage in conversations on the appropriate siting of the substations in the village, Vattenfall continued to respond to any such overtures by simply stating that their choice is based on the extensive consultation that has been carried out.
Having attended the site myself on several occasions over the past few years (see here), I can firmly understand the widespread confusion as to how Vattenfall have come to the decision to choose this location. Again, it is situated on top of some of the highest land in the area and will see two structures each about the size of Wembley Stadium constructed, if approval is granted by the Secretary of State. This means they would not just be visible to Necton, but five other villages too! It makes no sense!
Compounded by Vattenfall’s poor response to queries from the public, their decision not to engage at this time with local representatives regarding community benefits (on the basis of Scottish guidance) and their decision to stop attending the meetings I regularly convene with local community representatives, this has created a consensus in Necton and the surrounding villages that Vattenfall have deliberately designed their consultation to be a sham “tick-box” exercise that, while meeting the Planning Inspectorate/Secretary of State’s required standards, manages to largely ignore the opinions of local people.
Vattenfall’s actions made it hard not to believe they felt they could bulldoze through their proposals by exploiting the fact that Nationally Significant Infrastructure bypasses the typical local planning processes.
That’s why I continue to actively support the local communities in their opposition to Vattenfall’s proposals in their current form by encouraging them to set up a Taskforce that could liaise with me, and coordinate the efforts of local people.
(To read more on some of the representations that I have submitted to the Planning Inspectorate, and others, on behalf of the local community, please see links here with regards to their Norfolk Vanguard application: Relevant Representation, Letter to Breckland concerning Plane Crash site, Written Representation, Further Plane Crash concerns, Post-Hearing Submission and Concerns regarding Vattenfall's conduct. Please see links here with regards to their Norfolk Boreas application: Relevant Representation and Written Representation.)
It is also why I committed to securing debate in Westminster to highlight the wider policy matter in question.
Unfortunately, the initial date I had secured for a debate had to be postponed in order so that I could personally voice my concerns with the current proposals being put forward by Vattenfall at the Planning Inspectorate’s Open Floor Hearing in Norwich. (Read more here)
I was delighted, however, to be able to secure a rearranged date for the debate in March – at which the then Minister of State for Energy and Clean Growth responded to the points being raised. (You can watch the full debate here).
With at least another dozen offshore wind farms likely to be built off the Norfolk/Suffolk coastline, the East of England is to become the “epicentre” of this industry in our country and I was pleased the debate received the support of a number of other MP’s from across Norfolk and Suffolk.
To bring the electricity produced onshore, National Grid are proposing that each one has its own cabling and its own substation. This is bonkers. It is obvious to just about everyone who has looked at this that there ought to be an Offshore Ring Main with one or two connections onshore to the Grid - paid for by the consortia behind the farms (which are all heavily subsidised by taxpayers).
I am delighted that the local press has been looking at this idea in further depth. (See here)
Whilst I support offshore renewable wind energy and recognise the huge boost it will represent to our economy here in the Eastern region, it is vital that the cabling and connectivity infrastructure is properly planned: to maximise efficiency, reduce waste and cost, and to avoid unnecessary landscape, environmental and economic disruption across our county.
That’s why I backed a petition that was launched in August 2019 calling for all offshore windfarms to be made to connect to the Grid via an Offshore Ring Main. (To read more and to sign this, a link to the petition can be found here).
It’s also why I met with the then Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Affairs, the Rt Hon Andrea Leadsom MP, in the Autumn to make the strong case for an urgent Review of the options for delivery offshore wind infrastructure in the East – particularly the option of an ORM. I was very pleased that she agreed to look at such a Review and subsequently engaged in conversations with the then Energy Minister and now Secretary of State himself, the Rt Hon Kwasi Kwarteng MP, too. (To read more about this meeting, please see the EDP coverage here)
Despite the calling of a General Election and the busy period that followed as the Government secured a Brexit deal and carried out a reshuffle, I have continued to tirelessly drive forward this campaign in Westminster.
At the start of March 2020, I convened a meeting in Westminster with fellow Norfolk and Suffolk MPs, as well as representatives from a host of local councils and campaign groups from the East, to re-energise the campaign – asking, again, that Government Ministers prevent the laying of thousands of miles of offshore wind cabling, and the construction of these massive substations across the region, by backing the ORM option.
It was agreed that all parties would jointly lobby the then new Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the Rt Hon Alok Sharma MP, as well as the Rt Hon Kwasi Kwarteng MP, for a new approach to Grid connection with a view to developing a feasible ORM solution. The MPs present also agreed to raise Parliamentary Questions in the House and secure a Westminster Hall debate. Talks with National Grid, OFGEM and the Crown Estates were arranged too.
I was delighted, therefore, that in June 2020, the Energy Minister invited Duncan Baker MP, Jerome Mayhew MP and myself to discuss with him this campaign and the issues within it in a Zoom Conference Call with him. The Minister expressed great sympathies with our views and committed to asking OFGEM to undertake on his behalf a full feasibility study into the option of an Offshore Ring Main. That Review was publicly announced (details of which can be found here) and a Report was released – highlighting that offshore wind farms should be integrated, rather than a new connection being created onshore for each one (exactly what those of us campaigning on this issue have been calling for). The report also suggested UK consumers would save 18% or roughly £6 billion too if this integrated approach is adopted – with the East of England benefitting more than any other region: with savings of 30% = £2.3 billion. This was huge news and a massive step forward for our campaign.
Consultation on the report began soon after its release and my parliamentary colleagues and I lobbied National GridESO and OFGEM (and Government further) to ensure this was completed as swiftly and thoroughly as possible. Having chaired a roundtable in July 2020 to get the official Review underway, the Energy Minister a similar such roundtable in November 2020 with myself, fellow MPs, BEIS officials, National Grid, OFGEM and developers in the sector to go over the consultation feedback. This followed countless other meetings that my parliamentary colleagues and I had with scientists and experts in this field (from the UK and globally) and a formal submission that our core group of MPs made to the Energy Minister – re-emphasising the importance of our campaign and the adoption of an integrated offshore solution.
In November 2020, our campaign group secured an Adjournment debate in the House to lobby Government even more. The Energy Minister himself responded and commented: “The argument for some form of offshore network system has been won.” Success!
With the argument won, we then undertook to work hard to lobby Government on the urgency of looking at the regulatory change that will be required to bring this offshore solution to fruition. The campaign formally organised itself as the OffSET group and continues to work tirelessly and, while we continue to stress the need to avoid the current approach that damages so much land and countryside, and brings so much economic and social disruption, as a reason for needing to implement this new approach as quickly as possible, it is also clear that if the Government wants to achieve, and exceed, its Net Zero commitments, then it must accelerate work in this area.
Rest assured, the campaign remains very active and continues to do all it can to deliver the change we need.
Meanwhile, here in Mid Norfolk, I continue to work with the local communities that are likely to be most affected in my role as a constituency MP.
When news broke that Vattenfall may be looking at their community benefit fund ‘in the round’ of Norfolk, I responded to local concerns and teamed up with Jerome Mayhew MP and Duncan Baker MP to write to Vattenfall and make that case that, while Norfolk-wide community benefits were definitely positive, those communities that will be most affected by the construction, and then operation, of the proposed substations and associated cable corridors IF they secure permission must the focus of any community benefit – receiving a substantial, and proportionate, amount of the pot.
After a subsequent meeting with the Vattenfall team, we welcomed their agreement that community benefits in the communities that would likely be most affected should be investigated more thoroughly. Vattenfall agreed to the suggestion of Necton Parish Council and I to host a series of workshops as part of a much larger package of engagement with Necton and the surrounding villages in Mid Norfolk. They also confirmed they’d do the same in other parts of Norfolk and are working with parliamentary colleagues to deliver that.
I am looking forward to the first such workshop in Necton in January and shall post further updates in due course.
If YOU are a local campaigner, or just someone with an interest in this area, please do take the time to get in touch – and please do write to Government to lobby them with your views.
Together - we CAN make a difference. We owe it to the generations who will come after us to get this right and leave our county as beautiful as we found it.
To be kept informed of this campaign, do check back on the page as it is updated regularly to reflect my ongoing work.
As part of my ongoing efforts to support the communities that would be most affected by Vattenfall’s Norfolk Vanguard and Norfolk Boreas Offshore Windfarm proposals, I was pleased to open Vattenfall’s first Community Benefit Fund workshop in Necton this past Friday.
As part of my ongoing efforts to support the communities that would be most affected by Vattenfall’s Norfolk Vanguard and Norfolk Boreas Offshore Windfarm proposals, I wish to draw my constituents’ attention to a workshop that is being held in the village by Vattenfall on Friday 21st January at 6pm.
For all of those of us that love and appreciate our beautiful rural and coastal landscapes here in the East, it is clear that the current chaotic “free for all” approach to delivering offshore wind infrastructure is unsustainable in the long term.