Our town is a very nice town
News 1 April 2015
Pylon inspectors call in at Nailsea
An ugly overhead line of massive pylons straddling North Somerset could be the last built in this country because it is an antiquated technology, a public hearing at Nailsea heard this week.
Controversial plans by National Grid to link the first new nuclear power plant to be built in 20 years at Hinkley Point C near Bridgwater to its Seabank substation at Avonmouth by 35 miles of 400,0000 volt cables has been a matter of fierce debate since it was announced six years ago.
The proposal is for more than 29 miles of overhead pylons – that is 141 giant countryside structures with 109 of the T design and 32 of steel lattice.
But with only five miles either side of the Mendip Hills going underground the chosen route and the affect on communities came under close scrutiny on Wednesday, March 18, at the Methodist church centre, Silver Street.
Five people have been tasked to hear the evidence after EDF Energy had been granted a Development Consent Order for a new nuclear power station near Bridgwater on the best route to connect the electricity supply to the national grid.
The Planning Inspectorate panel headed by solicitor Wendy McKay who is supported by Annie Coombs, Alan Novitzky Richard Rees Dr Denis McNicholl were at Weston-super-Mare and Mark, Somerset, on Tuesday for similar meetings.
Prior to the Nailsea hearing the panel went walkabouts along The Drove and at Clapton-in-Gordano to try to assess the impact on the Tickenham Ridge and this part of North Somerset.
Four hours of oral evidence was heard in an afternoon and evening session at Nailsea with the first to sit in the hot seat being North Somerset MP Liam Fox.
'fears for fauna and flora including bats, birds, otters...disturbance to peat bogs and listed buildings dating back to Doomsday Book...plus 'cancer cluster’ health risks'
Dr Fox who represents Backwell, Nailsea, Portbury, Portishead and Yatton said all these areas are ‘materially affected by these proposals’.
Dr Fox asked the panel to decide if the transmission route was in the public interest, whether the consultation process was fair and transparent and properly conducted and also what weight is being given to the public’s response in a consultation.
While Dr Fox said he supports building a new nuclear reactor to ensure a future diversity of supply he wondered if all options for connection regarding economic, social and environmental factors had been explored.
He said: “The most direct route between the points at either end of the transmission line is underwater, yet from the very outset the debate centred entirely round the land route involving overhead transmission and new pylons.
“These pylons, twice the height or more of those in current use will clearly have an impact on the visual amenity in the area, will potentially provide economic, especially housing, blight to those in their immediate vicinity and have already generated concerns about potential long-term health effects of the close proximity of 400,000 volt lines to the local population, including children.
“If these high voltage lines produce no greater risk than the current 132,000 volt lines, then it is a legitimate question to ask why they need to be twice the height with the intrusion on the environment that this produces.
“We have never had an unambiguous answer to this question.
“Part of the consultation process, particularly in relation to Nailsea and Backwell, was a Hobson’s choice – we could either accept a new transmission line running close to the current route or we could have another which totally destroyed a nearby valley, producing widespread planning blight.
“This was one example of a consultation that was never a proper consultation at all.
“The options were fully weighted in one direction, producing a wholly predictable response.
“It is particularly galling to note that pylons are absent from places such as central London, for a range of entirely understandable reasons, but the cost is borne by those many miles from the capital.
“There is no rational explanation given for why this burden sharing should not operate in the opposite direction.
“I believe the Secretary of State should be asked to review this application and ask National Grid to provide properly detailed and costed alternatives.
“We are all electricity users as well as taxpayers, but we expect to be treated as intelligent adults with a full array of information in front of us, on which to make rational judgements.
“It is our sad and regrettable experience that this has not happened in this case.”
This part of the planning procedure follows years of public protests, questions in the House of Commons and high level ministerial meetings, representations from people living along the proposed route and mountains of documents and glossy brochures putting forward the case for and against building overhead pylons.
The oral hearing was the opportunity for individuals and interest groups to give supplementary evidence and to answer questions from the panel.
While National Grid argued that by removing 40 miles of the existing 132,000 volt overhead line owned by Western Power Distribution overall the countryside would gain with approximately 90 fewer pylons.
But it was the ‘real cost’ to fauna and flora including bats, birds, otters and the animals at Noah’s Ark zoo farm, the disturbance to peat bogs and listed buildings some of which date back to the Doomsday Book and the fears of ’cancer cluster’ health risks which dominated the arguments against overhead pylons which was voiced at Nailsea.
Stewart Plant, of Tickenham Court Farm, talked of his concern for the remains on his land of a Roman villa which dates back to 100AD and how a plough had hit underground water pipes which resurfaced and exposed the peat causing it to ‘shrink’.
Peat exposed to the air decomposes and turns into carbon dioxide.
He said: “We have a huge interest in keeping peat wet because if CO2 levels rise we won’t be here.”
Nailsea Against Pylons chairman Fiona Erleigh criticised the ‘misleading’ information supplied by National Grid and its attempt to divide the community by initially proposing a choice of pylons one side of town or the other.
She predicted delays as neither the finance nor the legally of building Hinkley C has been established which would give time to look at alternative technologies.
Austria – a non nuclear country - is launching a legal challenge against the European Union decision to approve a £17.6 billion subsidy between the UK government and French state-owned EDF, the hearing heard.
Mrs Erleigh added: “Campaigners feel North Somerset is getting a raw deal having overhead lines imposed on our beautiful countryside, when cables are being laid undersea and underground in tunnels elsewhere in and around the UK.
“We all know there is a better solution in the 21st century than giant pylons marching across our countryside.
“So let's not rush into doing the wrong thing when costs of alternatives are rapidly converging with overhead lines.
“The will of the people and of government are aligning to doing the right thing, let’s do it!”
Nailsea Town Council chairman Clare Hunt asked why National Grid was using an outdated method of transmitting electricity when a second generation of gas-insulated lines (GIL) for high power transmission was available.
She said this was the best environmentally-friendly option.
Support by Nailsea people and Wraxall & Failand parish councillor Hugh Pratt the panel was told GIL is a viable alternative which can be laid above ground, installed in smaller tunnels or buried directly in the soil.
Chartered engineer Chris Ambrose and Dr Pratt had already submitted a supporting paper for Wraxall & Failand Parish Council outlining the alternative they believe would add £7 per year to domestic electricity bill to underground all new transmission lines.
Mrs Hunt added: “This land may not be judged as an area of outstanding beauty worthy of protection, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder and to us it's nearly as good as it gets.
“Now our landscape may be the only one ever to have these structures, still a massive 10 metres higher than traditional pylons and carrying extremely high voltage electricity.
“If their transmission failed because of weather, disaster or a deliberate act it would bring the infrastructure of this area to a halt very rapidly with disastrous results.”
“Of course the removal of the 132,000 volt lines will offer some relief to Nailsea residents but is it more acceptable to place a blot elsewhere?”
And although the health factor was difficult to prove she had anecdotal evidence of Nailsea farm animals put out to graze in a field beneath the existing pylons all contracting cancer.
Dr Pratt told the hearing he is the UK’s principal expert on the effects of electrical currents on humans and he challenged what advice the panel had been given.
He said: “Overhead lines which intrude on the openness of countryside are unacceptable and I recommend National Grid resubmit proposals to underground.”
Environmentalist Tony Moulin said: “Wetlands are the biggest threatened landscapes in the world – we know what we are talking about but no one is listening and a biodiversity strategy is needed.”
Cadbury Camp Lane resident John Miles and his neighbour Alistair Cole talked of their rural ‘no through’ road being ‘sandwiched’ between 132K voltage cables going underneath homes and 400K voltage cables overhead.
Mr Cole whose home would be ‘worthless’ said his family had lived with ‘catastrophic’ stress in the decade since the pylon plan was revealed.
Mr Ambrose slammed the ‘sham consultation’ process which initially included a ‘dummy route’ to divide residents.
He added: “Since 2009 to date, despite the public opposition to overhead lines, National Grid has remained fixed in 19th century thinking with their predetermined position for overhead lines.”
A National Grid spokesman said they would respond to all issues raised at the Nailsea ‘open floor hearing’ but that ‘ultimately the government will decide’ whether the connection project goes ahead.
And what everyone agreed was there would be no decisions on anything until after a general election.
Co-op to close
The Co-operative bank at Crown Glass Place, Nailsea is closing this summer.
Customers have received letters saying: “As part of our plans for the future of The Co-operative Bank we regret to tell you that we are closing a number of branches in 2015 including Nailsea.”
Originally the offices of estate agents Alonzo Dawes & Hoddell it became the Bristol & West building society in mid 1980s.
Another name change in May 2005 and it became the Britannia Building Society which merged with Co-operative Financial Services in 2009.
Bosses say the closures will help make the Co-operative a more efficient and sustainable business.
A total of 57 branches including Clevedon will close across the country with 77 jobs set to be cut - largely in management positions.
The Co-operative Bank has had a troubled recent history, and in 2013 it was the subject of a rescue plan after a £1.5 billion capital shortfall was discovered.
Much of the loss was blamed on the bank’s disastrous 2009 merger with Britannia which were re-branded in 2011.
Customers are advised that from June 2015 their nearest branch will be at 78 High Street, Portishead.
North Somerset holidaymakers planning to jet off this weekend to sunnier climes are warned of road closures on route to Bristol Airport.
As part of highway improvement works near the airport the A38 at the Downside Road junction will be closed for part of the weekend to enable the existing footbridge to be taken down.
The road will be closed between 7pm-7am on Saturday and Sunday, March 21- 22.
Access to and from the airport from the south (Weston-super-Mare direction) will be unaffected, while traffic travelling to/from the north (Bristol direction) will be diverted via Downside Road into the freight access.
Prominent diversion signs will be in place.
Traffic lights will be in place on the A38 between 3pm -10am on Saturday afternoon until Sunday monring.
The removal of the footbridge forms part of £1.1m highway improvement works funded by the airport as part of a planning agreement with North Somerset Council.
The work includes improvements to the A38/airport entrance roundabout; and installing traffic lights at the Downside Road junction with the A38 (with the facility for pedestrians to cross), with a banned right turn into Downside Road.
A dedicated left turn will be introduced into Downside Road on the north approach from the A38.
To avoid delays, people should allow extra time for their journey.
2nd Costa cafe
Cohen’s the chemist has moved and its old premises at the corner of Somerset Square and Colliers walk is to reopen as a Costa coffee shop.
North Somerset Council gave change of use concent despite previous concerns about the number of pubs, restaurants, takeaways and food stores in the High Street and shopping precinct there was no objection from Nailsea Town Council or Nailsea Chamber of Trade & Commerce.
Cohen's has repositioned next to HSBC bank.
The wall between the vacant next door JT Shoes is being knocked down and the new coffee shop will occupy both 4 and 5 Somerset Square.
There is already an instore Costa cafe at Tesco on the far end of the High Street.
Costa is the largest and fastest growing coffee shop chain in the UK.
Costa is a British multinational and a wholly owned subsidiary of Whitbread.
Taking plunge at Nailsea
Just when you thought they had finished building municipal swimming baths and weeks before the May elections the news is that a pool is back on the cards for Nailsea.
With a £1.2 million refurbishment of Parish Wharf Leisure Centre in Portishead complete and £300,000 spent on the Strode Leisure Centre at Clevedon apparently it is now the turn of Hutton Moor and Nailsea.
The idea is by updating sports and leisure facilities throughout the district it will allow the council to cut its subsidies to the companies operating the franchises.
North Somerset Council leader Nigel Ashton told the executive committee on Tuesday afternoon that following the successful development at Parish Wharf – which has seen a 25 per cent increase in gym memberships since the improvements were carried out – the next part of the Leisure Services Review will see attention turned to Hutton Moor in Weston, and then Scotch Horn in Nailsea, including investigating development of a pool there.
Although early days Nailsea north and west Conservative councillor Jeremy Blatchford couldn’t wait to take to Facebook and announce the prospect of a pool for the town.
He posted: “Finally North Somerset announces that Nailsea is to have swimming pool at Scotch Horn which is to be more of a service hub.”
He added that this didn’t spell the closure of the pool at Backwell Leisure Centre.
Campaigners have been battling for a pool to be built at Nailsea for decades but have always been told there were no funds to finance the project.
The old Nailsea School did have a dilapidated pool build by parents but it became a maintenance nightmare and had health and safety concerns as poor ventilation caused the space above the water with a steamy ‘fog’.
Back in May 2007 town councillor Marston Dufty said people needed to be told the truth about the reality of a pool being built in Nailsea and that councillors should not make false promises and continue to keep the dream alive.
Mr Dufty said: "People in the town are being led up the garden path and are feeling that the notion that this dream can actually be realised.
"There is no way the town council can fund a project such as this and we all know the district council has no funds.”
At that time Nailsea Swimming Pool Interest Group secured outline planning permission for a new pool behind Scotch Horn Leisure Centre.
Leading the fight for a pool in Nailsea was the late Nat Tucker.
Nearly a decade ago Mr Tucker said: "I accept there are financial constraints, but no more than anywhere else in the country.
"This has been overcome by working with the community and local councils to consider the possibilities of founding a community trust which could attract funding from other sources.
"What we need is a proper strategy and vision drawn up by the council which we all can work to.”
Mr Blatchford said this week: “In an age of austerity to be even thinking of a new swimming pool in Nailsea may seem unusual."
But he believes the will and strategy is now in place at North Somerset Council to enhance all its leisure facilities.
He added: “The pool is the project highlight but many more services will come from the same building but the greatest gain will be to get the people of Nailsea of all ages fitter, healthier and having fun doing it.
“It hasn't suddenly come out of left field for an election we have been working on this for ages.
“We know the pool is for certain and a lot extra but the total hub contents are not yet decided because of external events.
“I support it, I have been arguing for it for years.”
Nailsea Town Council clerk Ian Morrell said: “The town council would welcome a major investment in leisure and recreation in the town by North Somerset Council and looks forward to working with it to improve services and facilities for residents.
“However, it will not be considering this in detail until after the upcoming elections.”
Located at the Brockway on the edge of Millennium Park the current leisure centre offers a 50 station gym, specialist spin studio, sports hall, squash court and onsite café.
It is also Nailsea's biggest venue for events, meetings and the like.