‘Draw breath. Listen more. Deliver better.’ Report puts Great Grid Upgrade under the green spotlight

The report was commissioned by three CPRE branches

CPRE Essex has joined a coalition with two other CPRE branches in the eastern region, endorsing a report into National Grid’s plans for new onshore transmission projects, seven of which will have a substantial impact on our communities and landscapes.
The proposals by National Grid are at the heart of its Great Grid Upgrade, a programme to create a decarbonised transmission system from the new – mainly offshore or coastal – energy-generation sources to businesses and households across the country. This includes the proposed new line of pylons from Norwich to Tilbury, which is now in the third and final round of public consultation.
However, growing concerns about a lack of thought-through policies and joined-up thinking prompted three branches of CPRE – Essex, Norfolk and Suffolk (Suffolk Preservation Society) – to commission a report by Dr Andy Tickle, an independent planning and campaign consultant who has worked on energy, planning and environmental issues for more than 40 years.
Dr Tickle’s report Greening the Great Grid Upgrade provides a detailed critique of the programme’s strengths and weaknesses and how it might be improved in ways designed to reduce the impacts on the countryside and ensure that impacted communities are properly heard.
In essence, the report considers that National Grid is hurrying ahead too fast with its plans, risking leaving a legacy of individual projects that might be surplus to our energy requirements, do not integrate with each other, fail to maximise their full environmental benefits and marginalise affected communities.
David Knight, chairman of CPRE Essex, said: “At the moment, National Grid seem to be in panic mode and are hurrying through their ‘consultations’ without having all the facts to hand. Quick decisions are usually bad ones, with the costs racked up and paid for many times over in future years.”
Chris Dady, chair of CPRE Norfolk, welcomed Dr Tickle’s findings: “This is an evidenced and thoughtful report that, far from trying to undermine the UK achieving a decarbonised and secure energy system, seeks to ensure that such a programme has the greatest chances of success, based on best practice, strategic thinking and public support.”

The report makes seven key recommendations, but in essence there are three core asks of both National Grid and the government:

1. Draw breath
Work on the Norwich to Tilbury scheme needs to be halted to properly investigate the various offshore and underground solutions proposed by expert bodies and campaign groups, especially in light of evidence that the costs associated with such schemes have been over-estimated by National Grid. There are also serious questions that need addressing by National Grid regarding its overestimation of the urgency of the proposed connection.

2. Listen more
It is vital that National Grid adheres to government commitments for earlier and more meaningful consultation, including the use of local design panels and community forums. There needs to be a fair, transparent and flexible community benefits policy that prioritises sustainability goals (including energy transition) and community and environmental betterment. Any community benefit funds need to be properly resourced and run, using experienced independent facilitators.

3. Deliver better
Greater ambition and focus are required, especially in securing increased offshore coordination, if the volume of transmission infrastructure, including pylons, is to be reduced. There must be a greater focus on delivering a new ‘Great Green Grid’ via the new Electricity Transmission Design Principles where more innovative technology could protect and enhance landscapes, amenity, biodiversity and heritage while helping rural communities achieve their low-carbon goals.
Robert Townshend, chair of Suffolk Preservation Society, added: “This report couldn’t be clearer for those of us who both support a decarbonised and secure electricity transmission system AND wish to seize the chance for better designed infrastructure that protects our precious countryside and sustainable community involvement. We all need to draw breath, listen more and deliver better.”
CPRE Essex, SPS and CPRE Norfolk are sharing this report with MPs, parliamentary candidates, local councils and campaigning groups to help put pressure on both National Grid and the government to improve the principles for the future rollout of the Great Grid Upgrade.

  • You can read the report here