Ian Liddell-Grainger, MP for Bridgwater and West Somerset, is very comfortable to have a nuclear power station in his constituency. The opportunities that the expansion brings to the area are just what Bridgwater needs, and a secure source of energy is necessary for the UK, I spoke to Mr Liddell-Grainger to talk about how expansion will affect his constituency, and whether they were prepared for the work.
In general, how do you feel that the expansion of Hinkley Point is likely to affect your constituency?
I think you’ve got to look back to when they built Hinkley A in 1957, and Hinkley B in the 60s, and now Hinkley C, a lot of the lessons that have been learned from that expansion, in particular the lesson that we have to put a lot of the traffic to the site through Bridgwater. Therefore, the expansion is not difficult on site, that’s the easy part – it’s what goes on around the plant that is the most difficult. I think one of the challenges that we are going to face is to ensure that this town is going to run. The expansion in Bridgwater over the past five years has been astronomical. We’re leading the South West as an industrial town, we’re leading as an investment town, and we’re leading as a place that people want to be. We have to manage those expectations with the biggest infrastructure project in Europe.
So, this will be an achievable challenge for Bridgwater?
It’s an interesting question, because when we started out with this, we had to learn a lot of lessons that we had partly forgotten. We went through very carefully with EDF and their team, and what everyone has been trying to do is to work out how we can go about this massive infrastructure project in a way that nobody else’s lives are disrupted over a 15 year period. So you have to work out how the workforce gets there, how the lorries get there, the heavy equipment. So we have a pier being built at Hinkley Point C, we have facilities that already exist, to allow people to beach very large barges – we just want to ensure that a minimum number of people, infrastructure, machinery, etc. goes through Bridgwater. There is a huge plan that has been put together with the district council at Sedgemoor, who have really been the unsung heroes of this – They have really led the way with EDF energy, of how to do this with the minimum of fuss.
I’ve heard concerns about the number of roads leading to the plant – Is there going to be something done about this?
We’re going to have two park and rides, which will let us channel people through Bridgwater in buses. The lorries will go at set times – and there are cameras already in place to make sure that they aren’t going when they shouldn’t be. We are also going to be spending money on the road infrastructure – We are doing a lot more work around Cannington, including a bypass. It is a challenge, I’m not saying it won’t be difficult, but we have done this with A and B stations. Although the town is bigger, the road system has been changed to accommodate that – so we are confident that we won’t gridlock the town – there will be times it gridlocks, it gridlocks now, for example at school times. But these people aren’t going to be going out at school times, they will be working a three-shift system, which means that they are not going to hit the rush hour times. We know the busy times, we know the traffic in Bridgwater, we know what we’re expecting, and so we know what we need to do.
EDF estimate that there will be 25,000 short-term jobs during the construction – which should be about 5,000 at a time. They are planning on building 2,000 accommodation places in the area – leaving 3,000 needing to be supported by the property market in the area. Is this doable?
Again, this is an interesting point – we have built an amazing number of houses here in Bridgwater, it is the fastest-growing town in the South West – why? Because we know how to make a town successful. We’ve been building, and we’re going to continue building houses – We’re going to build executive houses, we’re going to build one, two and three-bedroom houses. We are not going to build rabbit hutches – we’re going to build houses that people want to live in – and that’s the important part. These people are very well paid. The guys at Hinkley now, if you were to go into your local football or rugby club, you’ll find Hinkley people everywhere. We want them here.
There will be two accommodation blocks built, one at what we call Novia, opposite Bridgwater College, and a second at the plant, but we do want them in the community. We want the benefit of them being in our community, and spending money in our community. EDF do accept that there will be people coming down, and they’ll have their own facilities, but we want them in Bridgwater as well – we want the best of both worlds, and I think we can address that.
Are there enough school places as well?
We have built two brand new secondary schools, and plan to build two brand new support secondary schools. We have also started to build a brand new kindergarten. We do understand that there are challenges for schools, but every head knows what they must do to accommodate the pupils that we may or may not get. We are fully aware of the issues, the challenges and the risk to those challenges.
How might this affect tourism in the area?
We’ve had nuclear here since 1957, and it hasn’t stopped people coming down. Butlins in Minehead is a huge destination, Exmoor is a huge destination. Bridgwater itself isn’t a tourist destination, and never has been – because it’s an industrial town, and we do industry. It’s not going to affect anything.
There is controversy about the agreement between EDF and the Government – some people saying that this is essentially subsidising EDF. What do you think about this?
You could say that about wind turbines, you could say that about onshore and offshore wind, you could say that about the barrage – about any sort of energy production in this country. This isn’t a subsidy – it’s buying on a mortgage. If you go out to these wind turbines, that produce diddly-squat in terms of power, and are basically a waste of time, that’s a bigger problem for Bridgwater than a nuclear power station. The common sense answer is this, a way of getting nuclear power stations built, for no money out of the public pocket – and that is the UK national decision.
The European Union is only looking at this because Germany switched their nuclear power off, and now have a power deficit, and Austria are dead against nuclear power. Between Hinkley Point and a company wanting to build wind turbines on the M5, I had more letters and bigger public meetings about the wind turbines than about the nuclear power station. Hinkley Point is something that will keep going once the wind stops blowing.
We made a decision under Tony Blair that we can’t rely on anywhere else for our energy – we can’t depend on Russia, Ukraine, the Americans – we must have energy security. We have done a lot of work and put a lot of money into bio-plants, we are looking into barrage and other options. At the end of the day, it comes back to the baseline – you need something to produce raw energy. You need something powerful – you need nuclear. Nuclear power is supported by all three major parties in the UK – people can see that this is an energy source that is safe.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.