MP calls for more coherent approach to future of electricity grid

Parliament heard calls for a more coherent approach to the future of the electricity grid in a debate hosted in Westminster Hall by MP for Boston and Skegness Matt Warman.
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The debate in the House of Commons provided an occasion for backbenchers to raise the many concerns of constituents about land being taken out of food production and landscapes being despoiled, at potentially significant cost to local tourism industries.

On what was described as a ‘busy day in politics’ with local elections, Mr Warman said he was grateful to see so many present and to speak on behalf of colleages facing similar concerns.

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“A number of colleagues have asked me to mention their work for them and to share the concerns that many of us have about the approach that National Grid is taking and about proposals, unnecessary in many cases, to cover the landscape of some of the most beautiful parts of the country in pylons, which will cause permanent damage to the local economy and landscape.

Boston and Skegness MP Matt Warman (left) addressing Westminster Hall on pylons, with Sir John Hayes (South Holland) seated.Boston and Skegness MP Matt Warman (left) addressing Westminster Hall on pylons, with Sir John Hayes (South Holland) seated.
Boston and Skegness MP Matt Warman (left) addressing Westminster Hall on pylons, with Sir John Hayes (South Holland) seated.

"Specifically, my neighbour, my right hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins), my right hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Craig Williams), and my hon. Friends the Members for Waveney (Peter Aldous), for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers), for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Dr Johnson), for Brentwood and Ongar (Alex Burghart) and for South Suffolk (James Cartlidge) have all done huge amounts of work. Without wishing to put words in their mouth, all share at least some of the concerns that I will mention.

"My constituents are angry with National Grid and at the proposals to rewire the national grid in such a way as to use Lincolnshire as, frankly, a dumping ground for infrastructure that could be done better and differently.

"The proposal for a line from Grimsby to Walpole is to have pylons across the country for many tens of kilometres, rather than having it underground or, even better, offshore.

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"The proposal is unwelcome enough in itself, but National Grid tells us that constraints Government have put on it mean it is required to use pylons, rather than underground or offshore.

"National Grid also says, however, that the new eastern green link is only viable when it is largely offshore.

“What angers my constituents about the proposal, and angers many of the constituents represented by colleagues present in the Chamber, is not simply a desire to see the local economy and the local landscape preserved from the blight of pylons; it is an anger at what feels like an incoherent strategy by National Grid.

"That is within a framework set by Government, which is why I am grateful that we have the Minister here to talk about it from a Government perspective.

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“We should also acknowledge that the way in which National Grid has behaved has not delivered the kind of transparency to make constituents feel that this is a meaningful consultation on proposals that will not be temporary, although pylons are nominally temporary. The pylons will be with us for many years to come, and they will cost many millions of pounds, from an approach that I believe is fundamentally short-sighted.

“The longer-term view of that very necessary rewiring of the national grid will not benefit from an approach that does not take into consideration what we are seeking to achieve with projects such as Grimsby to Walpole and many others, and projects such as the eastern green link bringing power down from Scotland to the south and the east midlands.

"We should be seeking a more coherent approach that looks at what rewiring the grid successfully for the long term will deliver.

“I have spoken to many hundreds of my constituents in public meetings, in email and on social media over many months, and their anger is not simply about the desire to talk about the landscape. It is about the desire to see proper use of taxpayers’ money, and that should always be our top priority.”

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Three of the key issues constituents raise were outlined – firstly, regarding food security as Lincolnshire is one of the most productive parts of the agricultural economy.

"There is the pretence that underground cabling can be remediated and then we can go back to fully productive land, but that is a project for a number of years and the land is never, as any farmer will tell us, quite the same again,” said Mr Warman. “That is why we come back to an offshore approach being our first choice, but food security is a vital issue either way.”

The second issue was tourism. “We know that many businesses have built their entire livelihoods, and have bolstered the local economy by providing jobs, in areas that, although they may not technically be designated as areas of outstanding natural beauty and so on, are ones where that economy is built on the landscape in which people come and stay on holiday, in which people come and spend wonderful months of the year,” Mr Warman said.

“The approach that National Grid is taking, set by Government, does not consider food security in that way. It does not consider the economic impact of what is being proposed.”

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Thirdly, Mr Warman asked ‘What are we seeking to achieve?’, with a number of different projects.

He said: “The reason why we have a good number of people in Westminster Hall today for an election day debate, and several people saying that they would like to be here as well, is that there is real evidence up and down the country that National Grid is not delivering the strategic approach that it should be and it is not being tasked by Government to consider all the most important issues.

"It is no wonder that constituents are angry when they see food security ignored, economic impact ignored and value for taxpayer money ignored."

Closing. Mr Warman referred the the National Grid consultation question: “How can we mitigate the impact of pylons?”.

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" I have not yet met a single constituent who has said to me, ‘I don’t like these 50-metre pylons, but I would be okay with a 40-metre one.’

" That is not meaningful mitigation, and I think it is disingenuous to pretend that the project, in its current terms, would not have a huge impact.

"I ask the Government to consider whether that approach has been coherent and consistent, and whether there is a case for pausing the current set of conflicting projects and looking again at how we can make them work in a way that is better value for taxpayers and better for the grid in the long term. That is my ask.”

Jonathan Edwards of Carmarthen East and Dinefwr was one of many MPs congratulating Mr Warman on securing the debate.

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"He has succeeded where I failed, but I am grateful to be able to contribute to the debate, which he led so ably,” Mr Edwards said.

“There is no time to fall into poetic prose to describe the beauty of my constituency, but it is known as the garden of Wales—the Minister will just have to take my word for how beautiful Carmarthenshire is. I accept climate change realities, I accept the need to increase energy security, I accept the need to improve electricity distribution in our communities, especially in rural areas, and I accept the findings of the Winser report: that we are going to need a whole lot of new infrastructure to meet those challenges. I am not coming from a position of political denial.

“I am facing huge upheaval in my constituency, however, because there are now four distribution and transmission routes being proposed for Carmarthenshire. In Roman times, all roads led to Rome; in west Wales, all pylons lead to Llandyfaelog, where new national grid infrastructure is being built.

"The argument for pylons is that undergrounding is far more expensive, but the new cable ploughing technology is extremely impressive. It can be used to plough about a kilometre of line a day, and it is far cheaper than traditional undergrounding. The undergrounding analysis is based on a Parsons Brinckerhoff and Institute of Engineering and Technology report that was completed in 2012. The technology is there. I should say that the largest company in Europe happens to be based in my constituency, in Pencader.

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“I am asking UK Government Ministers to engage with the work of the Welsh Government and ensure that the Welsh Government have the resources to undertake that work. It could solve a lot of problems for the UK Government in the future.”

Sir John Hayes of South Holland and the Deepings said: “T. S. Eliot said: ‘Half the harm that is done in this world is due to people who want to feel important.’

“Such people invariably use utility to justify their claim: “This must be done. There are no other options. There is no choice. This is necessary.” “But the truth is that very often there are competing necessities. Certainly, it is necessary to think strategically about a grid fit for the future.

"Those who do not know the fens will not necessarily appreciate the glory of the open landscape and the big skies that are justly celebrated. “They have never been filled by tall structures, apart from churches—of course, churches are about God, in a way that pylons could never be. “Let us not fill those big skies and destroy that precious, unique landscape in this way. It would be a crime, in my judgment, to do so.

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"Let us believe in the beauty of the fens and the glory of our countryside—our green and pleasant land—and defend it.”

The Great Grid Upgrade is the largest upgrade of our electricity grid since the 1950s, and aims to improve and build more of the infrastructure needed to meet the UK’s expanding energy needs as well as our increased output of renewable domestic energy.

The upgrade consists of a number of projects across the country, and whilst National Grid proposes to build electricity cables underground or offshore in other parts of the country, the Grimsby to Walpole project proposes to build a new overhead line and pylons across Lincolnshire’s countryside. In the Boston and Skegness constituency these pylons would pass through an emerging corridor from Burgh Le Marsh, through New LEAKE, Carrington, Frithville and Sutterton.

Mr Warman told the debate he had never received so many emails or held so many public meetings on any other subject.

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"My constituents and those of my colleagues here today are angry – but it is not simply about how the landscape and economy will be affected from the blight of pylons.

"It’s an anger of what feels like an incoherent stratedy from National Grid.”

“Since the pylon proposals from Grimsby to Whaplode, the new Eastern Green Link states it is only viable if it’s offshore.

“What is clear is they have a legitimate desire to get this done quickly.

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"In areas of the country where schemes have been reviewed it has been decided they could have been done better and in a more coherent way.

What’s needed is that Parliament takes the current set of conflicting proposals and look at how we can better make this work.”

Fellow Lincolnshire MPs, Victoria Atkins and Sir John Hayes, as well as Lincolnshire County Council, and Police and Crime Commissioner, Marc Jones, have all also formally objected to the proposal, while other Members of Parliament have also objected to the range of other National Grid schemes proposed under the Great Grid Upgrade.

A full transcript of the debate which be available three hours after the debate on Commons Hansard.