TV’s Chris Packham joins fight against huge substation in Suffolk beauty spot
- Credit: Sarah Lucy brown
TV naturalist Chris Packham has called on energy bosses to “work harder” to avoid building a massive substation in a “beautiful” Suffolk habitat.
Mr Packham, who has spoken before of his love for Suffolk, after filming BBC Springwatch at RSPB Minsmere,has thrown his weight behind the fight to "Save Our Sandlings" in the Suffolk Coast and Heaths Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).
The substation proposals, included in ScottishPower Renewables' (SPR) latest consultation for its East Anglia TWO offshore windfarm, would see a 30-acre site at Broom Covert, near Leiston, developed with 21-metre tall structures, buildings and transformers.
The proposals have met with fierce opposition from campaigners who fear it would decimate an ecologically important landscape, while paving the way for more developments linked with the energy industry.
Earlier this week, a leaked copy of Natural England's consultation revealed major concerns about the substation, which it said would be "extremely challenging" to develop without harming the protected landscape.
MORE: Leaked report warns huge substation could 'overwhelm' Suffolk beauty spotMr Packham's support has been seen as a major coup for the campaign - after his video was viewed tens of thousands of times on Facebook and Twitter.
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He said the Sandlings were an important, beautiful habitat in the AONB, which made SPR's proposals "somewhat surprising".
He called on the company to find a brownfield site to spare the AONB.
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"That area is critically important for the region's tourism," he said.
"People like myself and lots of people I know like going there.
"We like walking through areas of outstanding natural beauty, we don't like walking through electrical substations."
Mr Packham said there had already been development near to the site, including Sizewell power station, and called on SPR to "work a little harder".
"When the last vestiges of the landscape are under enormous pressure, you've got to find alternative solutions to this," he said.
"So please join me in suggesting to SPR that we do indeed Save Our Sandlings."
SPR included Broom Covert as a potential substation site following criticism of its initial choice of an area near Friston.
Suffolk councils, together with people nearby, had opposed Friston's inclusion, saying its rural setting was unsuitable for such an industrial development.
Suffolk County Council, Suffolk Coastal District Council and Waveney District Council, urged SPR to consider the viability of all sites - including the AONB - saying protected status should not rule it out.
The councils had called for energy companies to take a more co-ordinated approach to infrastructure projects, recognising the other developments on the horizon, such as Sizewell C and a National Grid connection with Europe. They said Broom Covert could be more suitable as it required less underground cabling and would be less disruptive to the environment. This led to SPR launching the extra stage of consultation, called phase 3.5.
Campaigners from the Save Our Sandlings (SOS) group said they were "horrified" by the councils' support for the scheme.
David Wood, an SCC councillor and chairman of the AONB Partnership accused the councils of playing "backdoor politics" to influence the decision.
The councils' official response favoured the Broom Covert site as the "lesser of two evils".
SOS member Peter Chadwick said Natural England's response had "blown out of the water" the councils' support for Broom Covert.
He claimed the council should have pushed for a brownfield site, instead of supporting an option that would be bad for local people and the Sandlings, which he said was regionally important for tourism.
"We are thrilled to have such high profile support as well as Natural England's response putting forward many of the same arguments as us as to why it definitely should not and cannot be built on Broom Covert near Leiston," he added.
The group said it was now important it is to keep up pressure.
An SPR spokesman said: "Following requests from local authorities to explore the Sizewell Estate land, we added a further phase of consultation to seek community views on Broom Covert as an alternative site.
"We have already received responses from a wide range of stakeholders, statutory bodies and members of the public. All feedback is currently being reviewed and will be used to inform our plans going forward. Confirmation of a substation site which balances all aspects will be announced before the end of the year."
SPR said its East Anglia windfarms could provide clean energy to power 1.5 million homes and help meet carbon reduction targets.
Suffolk councils said their representations had been to encourage SPR to consider the viability of all potential sites for the substation.