Judy Terry is a marketing professional and a former local councillor in Suffolk.

Energy. We all need it, yet for decades, successive governments – of all colours – allowed the UK’s energy self-sufficiency to crumble: reducing gas storage and allowing nuclear capability to shrink, leaving us vulnerable to supply variability, affecting both households and business, as the economy struggles to recover from the pandemic downturn.

The crisis in Ukraine has emphasised the lack of a long term strategy for reliability and affordability. As prices rocket, the solution for replacing gas and oil appears to be ‘renewables’ to ‘reduce carbon emissions’. But it’s time to get real about what is actually achievable, without fossil fuels.

After two years of being told what to do, when most of us were compliant, we now face efficient gas boilers being banned within two years, in favour of ridiculously expensive alternatives – as well as no new petrol and diesel cars by 2030.

Hearing the Transport Minister, who owns a light aircraft, as well as his electric car, saying that people will be better off with electric cars, despite their high cost, suggesting most purchases are funded on credit deals, illustrates a detachment from real life. Perhaps he could explain how the average person, on an average wage (less than £30,000 in the Eastern Region) can afford such credit deals when interest rates are rising, and they can’t even save enough for a deposit to buy their own home.

He has also obviously forgotten that millions of people, including those in the Red Wall as well as some of the most expensive areas (i.e. Woodbridge, Suffolk), live in terraced houses, directly fronting narrow pavements, bordering narrow roads, without any possibility of installing a charging point. Instead, they would be forced to use more expensive alternatives at supermarkets and petrol stations, if they can find one, and it works.

And where will all this electricity come from?

The Prime Minister recently hosted a meeting of smart suit-clad males to discuss reviving nuclear; judging from the photos subsequently issued, women weren’t present. We have now been advised that the government is taking a 20 per cent stake, with EDF a further 20 per cent, in Sizewell C, but that still leaves 60 per cent of the expected £200m cost to find an investor. Meanwhile, it is hoped to extend Sizewell B’s lifespan by a further 20 years, which would be a good interim solution.

Although regularly denied, independent research indicates that wind farms do destroy birds, including eagles, and protected bat species. Nevertheless, the government seems intent on allowing prime agricultural land to be torn up, at a time when we need to be more self-sustaining on food production. Offshore wind is already demanding that such land be sacrificed in order to dig vast trenches to deliver energy to distribution points.

This is at a time when farmers are destroying their animals and produce because they don’t have the workers, and energy costs are shooting up whilst getting produce to market is too expensive because of rising fuel prices! There is also a shortage of drivers. Livelihoods are being destroyed; generations of people committed to providing quality and to preserving the environment through responsible farm management. Instead of growing our own, we import more of everything, contributing to the rising cost of living.

Not surprisingly, a recent application for the Sunnica solar farm on 2,792 acres of prime agricultural land in West Suffolk and East Cambridgeshire caused outrage amongst local residents, MPs, and environmentalists, with Suffolk County Council’s Cabinet declaring the plans ’flawed’ and unacceptable.

Currently with the Planning Inspectorate, which will make a recommendation to the Secretary of State for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy, the Council’s Cabinet papers claim it is impossible for the government to fully evaluate the significance and degree of impact because ‘several key assessments are inadequate’.

The Council has raised several key issues to be addressed when the Planning Inspectorate commences its examination:

  • Landscape and visual amenity: the council expects the developer to provide a more thorough presentation of key areas of impact and to work with the local authorities to reduce these impacts and propose more ambitious mitigation proposals;
  • Transport and access: the submitted material is not acceptable, with the assessments being seriously flawed. There needs to be credible evidence of impact and required mitigation;
  • Socio-economics and land use: the submitted workforce modelling is unsound as a basis for the Outline Skills, Supply Chain and Employment Plan. Contrary to the applicant’s assessments, the council does not anticipate employment and socio-economic benefits of any significance;
  • Community impacts: a project of this scale and nature proposed will change the character of an area which has been shaped by a unique combination of agriculture and horse racing. The Environmental Statement does not recognise this;
  • Ecology and nature conservation: the council requires that existing gaps in the assessments are closed.

The Cabinet papers also highlight the risk posed to council resources if the applicant does not provide a fair funding deal. Local councils are usually funded by developers to provide feedback on nationally significant infrastructure projects, but the applicant has not agreed to fully pay the council’s costs.

Deputy Leader, Cllr. Richard Rout emphasises that:

“Suffolk County Council is totally committed to renewable energy and it plays a key role in our climate change pledge. However, this commitment cannot come at any cost. Each project must be reasoned and considered. We will always examine the scale of the project and the impact on those living nearby.

“Unfortunately, we cannot support this solar farm because the size of the development hasn’t been justified and the fact that the planning application is seriously flawed. Amongst many things, it fails to assess the full range of harm to the landscape and surrounding area; if consented, it will permanently change the character of a unique part of Suffolk.”

The Secretary of State will make the final decision, expected in spring 2023. On current evidence, he should be wary of a serious backlash amongst loyal lifelong Conservatives, when it comes to the General Election, if he sanctions this project.

Instead of being panicked into making poor decisions, which will have a significant lasting impact, the government needs to reflect on what is right for the short, as well as long term. It may surprise ministers that most people are responsible in managing their impact on the environment, but, unlike ministers insulated by their own wealth, they also have to face reality – and they deserve to hear the truth.