Building our future
With the Hinkley Point C Connection Project now at the final public consultation stage, Peter Bryant, National Grid’s Senior Project Manager, Capital Delivery, tells us how such projects are put together, and why they can sometimes take time to complete.
Building our future
"Establishing a good relationship with communities can be one of the most important aspects of bringing forward a major project."
Peter Bryant, National Grid’s Senior Project Manager, Capital Delivery
A quarter of the UK’s current power stations will close over the next decade. That means new infrastructure to connect to a new electricity generation landscape.
Source: National Grid
The UK is facing a critical energy challenge – how best to maintain a reliable supply of electricity, particularly given that a quarter of our old power stations is due to close over the next decade. We’ll need new locations for generation, new technologies that are more focused on nuclear and renewable energy such as wind and, crucially, we’ll need a revamp of our infrastructure to ensure we continue to keep the lights on in the UK.
Take the Hinkley Point C connection project as a case in point, which will carry electricity from a planned new nuclear power station in the South West.
The project comprises a 57km electricity connection – from Bridgwater in Somerset to Seabank near Avonmouth – which will be at the heart of the local electricity network. We are working closely with Western Power Distribution on implementing the project.
The Hinkley Point C Connection typifies both the complexity of major infrastructure projects and the time needed to make sure we gather the views of local people and consult with the appropriate statutory bodies. In so doing, we want to strike the right balance between a technically feasible, cost-effective solution and preserving the local countryside.
When the need for the connection was first highlighted in 2009, immediate reactions were along the lines of ‘we don’t want it’, ‘put it all underground’, ‘why not use a sub-sea route?’.
We have come a long way in the past four years from that position. We have listened to the public, engaged considerably with statutory bodies and, as a result of the valuable feedback we have received, we have changed our proposals. We have just completed the final public consultation stage before submission of the proposal to the Planning Inspectorate. This will include a consultation report and an environmental statement.
How the work is done
Our work on a project like the Hinkley Point C connection begins with an assessment of all the possible (and technically feasible) ways that the necessary connection could be made. We work with environmental experts to take into account environmental features and designated landscapes, such as Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, ecologically important sites and the locations of listed buildings, while trying to minimise the impact on people and communities as far as possible.
With the Hinkley Point C connection, we considered more than 20 options – including overland and sub-sea – before concluding that a connection overland between Bridgwater, in Somerset and Seabank, near Avonmouth was the most appropriate way forward.
We consulted for 22 weeks on two ‘corridor’ options across land, engaging with local authorities, all the statutory stakeholders – the Environment Agency, English Heritage, Natural England, and some 45 other bodies – as well as conducting over 40 public exhibitions along the entire route.
In 2010, the Department of Energy and Climate Change and the Royal Institute of Architects launched a competition, supported by National Grid, to find an alternative to the traditional steel-lattice pylon. The result was the T-pylon, a shorter and more modern design that, if we get the go-ahead on the Hinkley Point C connection, will be used for the first time anywhere in the UK.
Once the alignment of a preferred route is decided upon, we discuss with landowners precisely where pylons would be placed and where we would propose going underground. In the case of the Hinkley Point C connection, that means a 8.5km section through the Mendip Hills, an area of outstanding natural beauty, and also putting a further 8km of existing 132,000 volt overhead underground between Nailsea to Portishead.
Engaging the public and listening
We created three community forums to help us engage with 56 parish councils. These meet at key stages and include representation from local communities and various campaign groups that have been set up along the route.
Our project newsletter is sent to over 40,000 homes and businesses within our consultation zone.
Our September 2013 consultation proposals include eight public exhibitions and public question and answer sessions. These are independently chaired, for example by Dr Liam Fox, MP for North Somerset, and Charlotte Leslie, MP for Bristol North West.
The project website features, for the first time, computer-generated videos that allow people to ‘travel’ along the route to see what it will look like with the T-pylons or lattice pylons.
We use Facebook and Twitter to help us further engage with the public via social media. And, for the first time, we took over empty shops in three locations so we could use them as National Grid community information hubs. Open six days a week, they contain all the information to help local people understand the project proposals. Elsewhere, a National Grid exhibition vehicle, decked out with maps and other information, visited supermarket car parks and colleges to engage with harder to reach communities and groups.
With such a major project, there is an enormous amount of information that describes how we arrive at our proposals. The preliminary environmental report alone, which provides details about the main environmental aspects of the proposal, runs to more than 13,000 pages – and there are more than 600 plans and maps and nine other detailed reports.
Subject to the feedback from this round of consultation, our submission goes to the Planning Inspectorate in early 2014. The Inspectorate then has four weeks to decide whether to accept the submission, based on an assessment of whether the consultation has been properly carried out, and a further six months to formally examine the proposals. This is done through written representations and a series of hearings, including public ‘open-floor’ events.
Following the end of the examination period, it will take a further three months for the Inspectorate to write its report to the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, who then has three months in which to make a decision.
Throughout the four years of the Hinkley Point C project, we carried out 42 weeks of consultation.
In 2009/2010, it would be typical for some 250 people to attend our exhibitions. On one Saturday in those early days, we had more than 1,300 visitors at an exhibition in Nailsea alone. Up to 750 people attended one public meeting about the proposals.
Now, as we draw to the close of the public consultation, the numbers at these sessions are lower. We hope this is as a result of the information, briefings and consultation we have consistently delivered over the last four years.
Having said that, there is still a long way to go. If the application is accepted, construction is expected to begin in 2016.