Published: 12:01, 07 March 2017
Work has started on a massive undersea cabling scheme which will link to the controversial erection of towering electricity pylons through the Canterbury countryside.
Our sister paper the Kentish Gazette has discovered preparatory groundwork is already underway at Pegwell Bay near Ramsgate, close to where the project – called the Richborough Connection – will begin.
The undersea cables being laid from Belgium, known as the Nemo Link, have already received planning consent to come in at Pegwell Bay and be linked to a new interconnector at Richborough. The aim of the project is to enable electricity to be exchanged with Continental Europe
But the Secretary of State has yet to give approval for a separate application for the new pylons from Canterbury to Richborough. Both projects are said to be dependent on each other which has sparked concerns that it is a done deal.
The news has alarmed Canterbury MP Sir Julian Brazier, who says it "makes a mockery" of the planning process.
“I’m very concerned to hear this. It is effectively like saying it’s all over bar the shouting," he said.
National Grid has applied to erect about 70 pylons, each the height of Canterbury Cathedral, from Richborough to a sub-station in Broad Oak Road.
The overhead line will pass through Sarre, Upstreet, Hersden, Westbere and Broad Oak.
Following a six-month inquiry, a planning inspector is due to present the findings to Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Greg Clark MP .
He will then have three months to consider the evidence.
The Gazette has discovered the contract for bringing the undersea cabling in at Pegwell Bay was actually awarded as far back as 2015.
There is now evidence of site preparation works at the Pegwell Bay nature reserve.
Mr Brazier, who objected to the application along with the region’s two other MPs, said: "It makes a mockery of the planning process.
He has now written to the Secretary of State expressing concerns about the development.
In it he says: "I was shocked to discover that, with no result yet come back from the inquiry, it seems that the promoter has already started to hand out large-scale contracts because it is so confident of success.
"This proposal threatens to blight villages all along the route and will wreck the Canterbury skyline.
"I understand that the application comes before you shortly. I cannot stress enough how opposed I am to this permanent disfiguration of our historic city.”
Mr Brazier and the region’s two other MPs have campaigned against the pylons being erected around Canterbury.
He has urged National Grid to consider bringing the Nemo Link in at Kingsnorth, near Ashford, which he says would have far less impact on the countryside.
The Richborough Connection planning application has also been challenged by the city council, Kent County Council and residents who say the countryside will be blighted by the forest of pylons.
A National Grid spokesman confirmed the Nemo Link is dependent on the Richborough Connection being signed-off by the Secretary of State.
Nemo Link project director Mike Elmer said: “The Nemo Link interconnector will connect the UK and Belgian’s electricity systems via subsea cables, allowing the two countries to trade electricity.
“Preparatory works commenced in September 2015 as part of plans to build a converter station at the proposed Richborough Energy Park.
“The project is aware that the Richborough Connection consent application is currently being reviewed, prior to a decision by the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and awaits this decision with interest.
“Nemo Link is on course to be complete and operational in early 2019.”