No one likes to be called a Nimby. But that is what Boris Johnson called us after he was driven at speed past a peaceful protest against Sizewell C during his last week as a lame duck Prime Minister.
Sizewell C is the proposed new nuclear power station for which development consent has been given on the Suffolk coast, just south of the famed Minsmere Nature Reserve. The local opposition to Sizewell C has been led by two very effective campaign groups supported by the Green Party and most of the local Parish and Town Councils but not, regrettably, by the Tory-led District Council. We won a council byelection seat from the Conservatives last year on the back of our opposition.
The case against Sizewell C is compelling on multiple grounds – including that it will be delivered too late and at too great a cost to form part of any rational path to net-zero. The site on an eroding coastline is unsuitable and there is currently no guaranteed fresh water supply in what is one of the driest parts of the UK. It will also swallow up valuable landscapes and wildlife habitats and cause chaos on local roads. I expect, though, that the accusation of ‘nimbyism’ is something many local parties must contend with and on a case-by-case basis we do need to be careful.
In this case, the Planning Inspectorate supported many of the campaigners’ objections, telling the Secretary of State that unless the outstanding water supply strategy can be resolved and sufficient information provided on the protection of species and habitats, the case for consent ‘is not made out’. He ruled, however, that “the very substantial and urgent need for the proposal outweighs the harms.” This battle is not over. Judicial Reviews are being investigated by campaign groups, including the RSPB, and total funding for the project is far from guaranteed.
The challenge for local Green Parties and candidates, in general, is to strike the right balance between policy imperatives, such as the fight against climate change, and our instinct to support brave local campaigns.
Whenever large-scale infrastructure developments are proposed it is almost inevitable that there will be local opposition. We have seen this in our area with the onshore infrastructure associated with proposed North Sea offshore wind power projects and large solar parks on greenfield sites.
The urgency of the climate crisis does require a rapid decarbonisation of the electricity generation system, and if we support campaigns against all new energy infrastructure we can come across as confused or even hypocritical.
So, what is the answer? I think this is caught by the slogan used in the campaign against the siting of a major substation in a tiny Suffolk village: ‘Yes to wind power, but let’s do it right’.
In the current mad world of private energy companies, there is currently no cogent overall plan for bringing 50GW of wind power onshore. This means that every operator is looking at point-to-point onshore connections threatening to despoil multiple rural sites along the UK coastline. ‘Doing it right’ means reducing the number of onshore connection points by using offshore hubs to collect power from multiple sites.
We need to choose the campaigns we support with care. We have chosen to continue the fight against Sizewell C and will do so regardless of the insults thrown at us.