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Planning system needs radical reform to be fit for the energy transition

The national infrastructure planning system is not fit for purpose and causing massive delays which could be disastrous for the supply chain, says wind champion Martin Dronfield.
Vattenfall’s Norfolk Vanguard and Norfolk Boreas, and ScottishPower Renewables’ East Anglia Hub are in limbo as they wait for the planning process to catch up with new zero ambitions. Picture: Vattenfall

More than 5GW of offshore wind off East Anglia is in limbo in an “out of date” planning process. Meanwhile, the government continues to herald offshore turbines as key generators in the UK’s decarbonisation plans. 

This is a serious disconnect, says wind champion Martin Dronfield, who warns stalling can mean stagnation, which would be “disastrous” for the region’s SMEs, stymie skills investment and a more diverse workforce, leaving the region even further behind. 

Lobbying ministers, BEIS (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) and MPs for urgent green lights for in-flight wind developments off East Anglia has never been so crucial. 

Time is ticking on major infrastructure projects at different stages of a planning process that is no longer fit for purpose for an industry that has surpassed all government expectations and delivered an efficient and cost-effective alternative to hydrocarbons quicker than any prediction a decade ago, Dronfield warns.

Martin Dronfield

Congratulating the industry on its success, the government continues to single out offshore wind as the backbone of the UK’s net zero journey, as businesses pin their hopes on contracts off their coast where the UK’s most capacity is installed. 

But the once bright beacon is swiftly fading into frustration as delays in the infrastructure planning process threaten to undermine investor confidence and supply chain stability in a region that has led the way. 

Martin calls for the “fragile and outdated” planning process to be ripped up to speed up the process to avoid “stall and stagnate”. 

If development of Vattenfall’s Norfolk Vanguard and Norfolk Boreas, and ScottishPower Renewables’ East Anglia Hub falls further into the future – or they are forced to wait for technology to be developed for a more coordinated system of “the mythical offshore ring main” to connect to the National Grid – the scenario would be very bad for the supply chain. 

“Undoubtedly, it will result in many of our smaller local supply chain companies going under, and the loss of future jobs and skills opportunities for young people,” said Martin. “It worries me that it would be far more than one or two. 

“The government has to reform the planning system around NSIPS (National Infrastructure Planning) urgently. Without the in-flight capital projects, the East of England offshore wind story is lost.”  

The industry had successfully shifted from a marginal technology and power generation to mainstream and been embraced alongside spiralling support for urgent action against climate change fuelled by a wider understanding through social media. 

“But our national infrastructure planning system has not kept up and needs radical reform now to be fit for the energy transition.  

“Our region is home to a significant amount of SMEs and organisations that are looking to the energy landscape for growth and for their future. Many are looking to the energy landscape for their survival.”  

Even if Norfolk Vanguard and Norfolk Boreas, and East Anglia ONE North and Two, as well as the massive Sizewell C nuclear power station construction project, get the go ahead, the region still has a one-and-a-half to two-and-a-half-year gap without a capital development for our energy supply chain. 

“If they are delayed or paused, that gap in capital feed into the supply chain becomes massive. Very easily, the delay could become four to six years without any major capital project in the region,” explained Martin. 

Europe is the biggest and closest market for offshore wind but “any UK haulier, transport company, manufacturing or distribution company that used to sell to Europe will tell you how difficult it is”. The ripple effect would also be great, Martin warns. 

“CEFAS (Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture) and others want to turn Lowestoft into a marine science campus of excellence, others want to develop the local ports, these plans will be completely undermined with no projects taking place soon off our coast.”  

Windfarm Map  cropped

If businesses stop investing in training and re-skilling in the hiatus, the region could lose its incredible skills base which has been 60 years in the making. 

Without the ‘story’ of wind turbines being built off the coast providing the narrative for people to engage with Skills for Energy, East Coast College, and other providers, it makes engaging with schools to ‘sell’ jobs of the future difficult, he said. 

“Also, we have got no hope of addressing the big issues of equality, diversity and inclusion in our industry without a vibrant capital project pipeline. 

“The East of England is clearly not very high on the government’s agenda for levelling up or priorities for investment. The government spends its money where it believes it is needed most, in the industrial heartlands of the north, the Northern Powerhouse. 

“In the east, we have very low population density and a low industrial demand for energy in comparison. We are, by default, in the wrong place geographically.”  

Rather than wait, the region needs to keep the story going by lobbying and “shouting from the roof tops in a united way” explaining why the projects are vital to the future prosperity of East Anglia. 

To express concern about the potential hiatus in developments, long anticipated in East Anglia, write to Kwasi Kwarteng, Secretary of State for Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy at: copying in your MP and county and district councillors. 


East Of England Offshore Windcluster Forum 

Vattenfall is supporting the launch of the East of England Offshore Wind Cluster Forum with EEEGR to work with businesses to make the most of the region’s offshore wind potential and grow the sector’s future. 

Danielle Lane, Vattenfall’s UK country manager and Offshore Wind Industry Council co-chair will speak at the launch event on September 16 about what offshore wind in the UK will look like in 2040 at East Coast College’s Energy Skills Centre in Lowestoft and via Microsoft Teams.