'All we are doing is fighting' - the Norfolk market town where cables for world's largest offshore wind farms meet
PUBLISHED: 12:00 15 December 2017 | UPDATED: 12:13 15 December 2017
Metres away from Ray and Diane Pearce's front door enough electricity to power more than four million homes will flow under the ground.
Their converted barn and holiday lets on the edge of Reepham are in the crosshairs of two huge offshore wind farm developments which need two cable corridors to be dug across Norfolk to connect them to the National Grid.
They say it will lead to the closure of their business as well as years of construction work.
The cables, carrying electricity from the offshore wind farms planned by Orsted and Vattenfall, come ashore at Weybourne and Happisburgh.
The Weybourne cables will be buried underground to Swardeston to connect to the National Grid, meaning a trench area up to 80m wide and 55 kilometres long will slice through the countryside.
The Happisburgh cables will be buried underground all the way to Necton to be connected, meaning a 60km long trench will need to be dug up, with the work area up to 100 metres wide.
The two sets of cables meet just south of Salle Park on a sugar beet field opposite the Pearce’s home on land belonging to the Salle Estate.
Mr Pearce, a former British Airways pilot, is furious about the lack of coordination between the two projects and blames National Grid, which allocated the connection points to Orsted and Vattenfall, for a lack of foresight.
“We have solar panels on our roof,” he said. “We understand the need for change, but National Grid is carving up the county on a first come, first served basis.
“They are just looking at most economically effective way to do it.
“I want them to stop and take a deep breath and come up with a coordinated plan.”
Mrs Pearce said: “Metres from our front door there will be cables carrying five Gigawatts of power,” she said. “We have asked a number of engineers, would you live in our house? They have all said no.”
She said the holiday lets around their converted barn are going to be removed from the website of their agent because of the construction work.
It means their business, which they have built up since 1996 and which they gave up their well-paid jobs for, will shut.
And they can not sell their home because the value has collapsed. “All we are doing now is fighting,” Mr Pearce, 57, said.
They also raised health concerns about radiation from electromagnetic fields (EMF) coming from the cables.
“We will be the only house in the UK like this,” Mrs Pearce said.
Neighbour Laura Philpott is also fearful of the health impacts from EMF. Her husband, six-year-old son and 67-year-old mother moved to the idyllic farmhouse from Tacolneston for the scenic view.
They only bought the house, which was meant to be their forever home, in June and Mrs Philpott admitted they were “naïve” about the impact of the cable corridors.
“Vattenfall and Orsted said they would work to government guidelines on EMF but they have not designed anything yet so they are not in a position to guarantee that,” she said.
But those concerns are dismissed in an environmental impact report written for Vattenfall.
It said the levels of EMF from the development would be “well below” the guidelines.
Vattenfall said: “Very extensive scientific research has been carried out to investigate potential for health risks from EMF.”
A spokesman for the energy firm added they were working with Orsted to work out exactly how the cables would cross.
“The crossing of underground transmission cable is common in the UK, with one set of cables going under the other,” they said.
“How that will work precisely will be determined post consent of both projects during detailed design. We are working with Orsted on design options now.”
Orsted said: “We have a good working relationship with Vattenfall and whilst it is too early to determine exact engineering details at the crossing point, we are both committed to close cooperation at the crossing near Reepham.”
An Orsted spokesman added they were working with Vattenfall on the “key engineering principles” of the crossing which will be published in the new year.
•Why are the cables crossing at Reepham?
A crossing of the two cable corridors at Reepham could be avoided if the two energy firms building the wind farms swapped connection points.
That would mean Orsted, rather than Vattenfall, connected its cables to the National Grid at Necton, and Vattenfall connected to the grid at Swardeston, instead of Necton.
But the National Grid said it was too late for that.
It said connection points were given on a “strict first come first served basis”.
They said: “Generally, once an offer is made, developers commit significant resources to the planning, design and consenting of the onshore and offshore routes, therefore there is no option for National Grid to change a project connection point. If this were to occur, significant cost and delays would be incurred by both projects.”
They said Swardeston was considered as a potential connection point for Vattenfall, but Necton was preferred because it was easier to get consent for the cable route.
Orsted then applied for a connection point after Vattenfall and so were given Swardeston, known as Norwich Main.
•Tomorrow: How the cable corridors will impact on Norfolk’s environment