Suffolk councillors reveal the county is facing the highest proportion of nationally significant infrastructure projects
Suffolk is facing the highest proportion of nationally significant infrastructure projects (NSIPs) in the country, with ten per cent of all national projects planned for the county, it has been revealed.
A scrutiny committee meeting of Suffolk County Council on Thursday heard that there are currently 14 NSIPs in the system for Suffolk, which is 10 per cent of the entire UK pipeline and represents the highest proportion for any county in the country.
NSIPs are large infrastructure schemes decided by the Government, largely around transport and energy.
Some of the key projects in Suffolk include the Gull Wing bridge in Lowestoft, A12/A14 improvements at Copdock, Sizewell C, Scottish Power Renewables’ windfarm proposals and the Sunnica solar farm planned for the Suffolk/Cambridgeshire border.
While those projects can bring huge economic benefits, job creation and additional investment, the community and environmental impacts can also be significant.
The decisions on those projects are made at a national level, but require lengthy and detailed representations by local authorities at planning inspections and ongoing talks with the developers themselves, as well as discussions with parish and town councils and community groups.
Suffolk County Council has outlined pressures caused by so many schemes, with a report for Thursday’s scrutiny meeting stating that it had “starved the planning team and other teams of resources”.
Richard Rout, Conservative cabinet member for the environment and finance and deputy leader of the authority, said more recognition was needed of the pressure it placed on the council, and the cumulative impact such big projects had on communities – particularly along the Suffolk coast where several were concentrated.
“Suffolk has the greatest proportion of NSIPs of any county in the UK – ten per cent of all of them,” he said.
“There are currently 14 in the system for Suffolk, with more that may yet follow given our strategic position for offshore wind generation and the resulting transmission infrastructure.
“This puts a strain on us and our capacity, but also our communities who are really, really feeling the toll of NSIP after NSIP coming forward.”
Cllr Rout said the council’s role was vital as a key influencer to deliver improvements and mitigation measures for locals – “the very best deal possible,” while assistant director of major projects, Bryn Griffiths, said the “tens and tens of milions of pounds that are at stake” meant it was “absolutely crucial to the future of Suffolk”.
The high proportion meant Suffolk has generated a strong level of expertise in-house at the council, the meeting heard, as well as fostering relationships with environmental groups, parish and town councils and utility firms.
But it has also caused a resource issue and a future need for more joined up work between projects to combat the cumulative effect on communities.
Cllr Rout added: “There are wider asks of Government in terms of funding around the co-ordination role in the county given the strain placed on us, and a wider ask around holistic community benefit, packages that aren’t so rigidly tied to a given application and a recognition to the cumulative strain of those projects.
“The recognition of this strain on our communities is a key issue and the government needs to recognise that for public acceptance for these schemes to exist there needs to be an offer to them as well.”
The scrutiny committee is set to lobby the Government on securing changes to funding of NSIPs to provide more support for authorities to secure the necessary mitigation for their communities.
It has also asked for an early warning mechanism that NSIPs are to be submitted so resourcing plans can be made from the outset.
Committee chairman Michael Ladd said: “If they are nationally significant projects, why is it being left to the local authority?
“That should be a national issue and the Government should be putting that funding in because they are nationally significant, not just Suffolk significant.”