24 June 2024

Nimby Watch: The electricity-sceptics of Little Bromley


For this week’s edition of ‘Nimby Watch’, Jonn Elledge takes us to rural Essex, where Nimbys who can’t define ‘countryside’ are preventing the construction of vital electricity infrastructure…

Where are we off to this week? Essex. Look, don’t start.

I’m saying nothing. But this is proper Essex, okay? Not London suburban Essex. Little Bromley, a rural village 60 miles north east of London near the Suffolk border, is about as not suburban as you can get. This is precisely the problem.

So who’s trying to build there? National Grid, which is currently in the middle of its ‘Great Grid Update’, the biggest overhaul of Britain’s energy infrastructure in generations. A key part of this will be 184km of new pylons running from Norwich to Tilbury, connecting up to a bunch of new offshore wind projects, the proposed Sizewell C nuclear power station in Suffolk and new interconnectors across the North Sea. All this will help the UK reach net zero. It’ll also help the east of England keep the lights on.

And the people of Little Bromley don’t want it? The people of a lot of places don’t want it. ‘Queen of the Nimbys’ Rosie Pearson managed to get over 36,000 people – roughly 140 times the number who live in the village of Little Bromley – to sign a petition against the plan and demanding a ‘strategic offshore grid’. Sample quote: ‘National Grid tells us offshore is more expensive. THAT’S NOT TRUE!!’ Compelling argument, there.

Anyway, no matter: everyone ignored the Nimbys, it’s all going ahead.

So what’s the issue? The issue is a proposed new substation. Little Bromley, campaigners say, is a ‘small, rural Village… a green ‘lung’ and consists of prime agricultural land’. Today, though, the area, alas, is ‘under massive threat’.

Now I have a number of questions about this. One concerns the words ‘green lung’. That’s a phrase generally applied to urban green spaces, like New York’s Central Park, which help built up areas breathe. You can’t have a green lung in countryside. That’s just countryside. ‘People from the nearby Towns and Cities come to this area for walking, cycling, horse riding etc to get away from the noise and traffic of the towns’. I’m sure they do, but I’m equally sure they do that in the literal entire rest of East Anglia. If we use that as an argument, we’ll never build on anything.

That is, to be fair, some people’s position. Not only is Little Bromley not a lung: it’s also, let’s be honest, not green, because agricultural monoculture is one of the least green things you can do with your land. The inadvertently funniest bit of the thread is the tweet which reads, ‘These are just some of the fields that are under threat’. 


Hmm, more of a beige lung, maybe. Also:


Okay, so the fields aren’t great, but they’re surely nicer than an electricity substation. The substation will cover 23 hectares – equivalent to a square not quite 480m on each side. Now that’s not tiny. It’s a city block. It is, however, 0.3% of the approximately 7.5km² land in the village. It’s not a lot of space.

Yeah, but if it’s your village- Oh, well that’s the good bit. It’s hardly anybody’s village. Population: 253, fewer than a fair sized street, not one of whom is going to have to move. This scheme is inconveniencing a tiny number of people, and by not very much. 

And people still whine, because they’d rather have fields. 

Easy to say that from London. Do you have any idea how much industrial infrastructure, how many blocks of flats you can see from my window? Yet somehow I can cope.

But people chose to live in the country. Sure. And if the graphic design agency responsible for that thread is happy to run its business without electricity, rather than merely not wanting the infrastructure necessary to provide it, then I’ll be happy to stop calling them hypocrites.

Okay, but that land could be used to grow food. I’m happy for that graphic design agency to grow all the potatoes that they want. But don’t want electricity infrastructure? Don’t get electricity. Sorry, I don’t make the rules.

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Jonn Elledge is a journalist and author.

Columns are the author's own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of CapX.