The new, much tougher stance by the Suffolk County and District councils came as a bit of surprise, but has obviously been stirred up by EDF Energy’s Stage 2 approach. It all looked like being very cosy before anyone saw the actual proposals. There seems to have been a sea change.
Cynics say there are elections coming and Suffolk voters are starting to get cold feet about about the scale and evident disruptive challenges of the project. Why else would senior county councillors, including the Suffolk County Council leader, happily join Theberton and Middleton (TEAGS) and B1122 Group and TASC (Together Against Sizewell C) for a group photo of the lobbyists outside the Suffolk County meeting?
EDF Energy’s Stage 2 consultation has been a moment of truth: they have pulled back from apparent willingness to do things about the appalling road problems they woud cause. Now, we learn, there is no rteal need for a 4 villages bypass, and only maybe only a 2 village bypass; no change on the overwhelming B1122 impact, and a totally complacent and statistically manipulative approach to the whole traffic nightmare. Then they want to take - i.e. destroy - even more nature protected land. And are seen as not seriously engaging with the accomodation and social issue problems. Stage 2 is, in effect, a big rebuff to the Stage 1 optimists. In particular, it could be viewed as an affront to the rightful, if limited, concerns raised at Stage 1 by council authorities.
A political deal about 4 villages bypass
There is nevertheless, a political deal in it, explained at the Suffolk District cabinet meeeting which followed the SCC cabinet meeting. The deal is that if the two councils can get MP Theresa Coffey (now a junior minister) to access government money for half of a four village bypass, with some money also from the 2 councils, maybe EDF would pay up for the other half. This formula will no doubt keep the ball rolling, and £1 million has just been given by government as development money.
This deal-making approach invites the question of who, in any case, has any real money (£40 million & maybe more), and is this sort of sum for four villages a real priority given so many other calls on public money in Suffolk and East Anglia. And, of course, it still leaves severe traffc stress problems on the rest of the A12 all the way up to Yoxford. It might also delay the project since this ought to be done before the works start, a problem acknowledged in the council meetings. It also means a further thumbs down for the D2 new road idea. This would run right across country from the A12 to Sizewell. To be effective, a D2 also needs the 4 villages bypass, since it seems 85% of new Sizewell traffic will come north up the A12. Together, which is the only sense of the situation, they would cost really big money.
Then there are impossible problems like the Yoxford A12-B1122 junction and, round the corner the A1120 junction...a sphagetti junction flyover has been jokingly suggested. An SCDC councillor reflected correctly that there were enough problems already around the A12 and A14 junctions, and these were going to be magnified by the proposed Felixstowe logistics park, quite apart from the EDF project’s impact. We conclude that the proposed deal can’t win the game in any case.
The McGregor Report has much important detail, and interesting observations cropped up in the debate. For example, at the SCC meeting, that the new permanent access road to the Sizewell site required by nuclear regulators is not presented with any alternatives routes to avoid destroying even more of the Sizewell SSSI protected habitat. Further, that the site design, which has crept further on to the beach, should be reconsidered, and some building heights could be reduced etc. These points arise because the much vaunted AONB will be cut in half permanently.
No solutions in any case
On the other hand, there is also a bland approach to other issues which won’t go away. There is a lot of “planner-speak” which puts “mitigations” and “compensation” in the same box as though it is all that simple. SAGE says what distinguishes this site, situation and project is that a lot of key challenges simply do not have real, practicable “solutions” in any case.
The three thirds “progress” report?
So how do things stand? SCDC’s lead councillor Geoff Holdcroft, also an AONB person, and chair of the new nuclear local authorities group, put an optimist’s best case forward. He explained that about one third of the project could be supported, according to the new report. Another third was “not yet at all satisfactory”, and the final third could not be judged because EDF had simply not provided sufficient detail for a responsible view to be taken. He remains adamant that the SEGWAY project is the solution, this being a “south east gateway” approach for overall development pivotting on the new nuclear reactors. We detected that this was not a representative vision, not the least because everyone else seems to want gateways too. And those Sizewell jobs? Well, Ipswich’s Sproughton site, ex-sugar beet factory, is being planned as a development park for 1,000 to 3,500 jobs. That’s a different development model....
“In principle” is a long road ahead
Aside from this, the “three thirds” analysis sounds like lots and lots more work is needed from EDF, and lots more time. But Cllr Holdcroft also insisted a Stage 3 consultation could come quite fast. Certainly not the four years between Stage 1 and 2, and maybe in time for the declared start of Hinkley sometime in 2019 so that staff could be transferred to Sizewell.
Well, the best that can be said is that 2019 is surely a minority viewpoint. But this is what EDF must be telling public figures.
So, to borrow the much used phrase, SAGE says “in principle” a welcome to the McGregor Report. But it will need a lot of work to keep the sea change going in the right direction.