A businessman has changed his mind about building a new nuclear power plant at Leiston — branding the plan “bad for Suffolk”.
Saxmundham-based William Kendall — a past high sheriff of Suffolk and an organic farmer — said he was in favour of the project until about two years ago.
He was shown around EDF’s Sizewell B plant while he was high sheriff and was impressed with how it was operated, he said.
But after he visited a Sizewell C roadshow two years ago and found friends and neighbours visibly upset by the plans and the potential disruption they would cause, he decided to take a deeper look.
“I am an environmentalist and was led to believe that the only way we can tackle climate change fast enough is to build some interim nuclear energy capacity,” said Mr Kendall.
The entrepreneur has been involved in various business projects over many years. He was previously behind well-known food brands such as Green and Black’s organic chocolate and Covent Garden Soup before selling up, and is currently a director of online grocer Farmdrop and a trustee of the Grosvenor Estate, which is owned by the Grosvenor family.
“I had misgivings. I took my then 17-year-old daughter to Chernobyl on holiday some years ago to look at the wildlife but you can’t fail to see the downsides of nuclear energy when you are there,” he explained.
“We hope it is much safer here but there are still no proposals to deal with the waste that will be highly toxic for thousands of years, other than to bury it in our fast-eroding coastline.”
EDF insist the project will be good for both the environment and the local economy providing opportunities for people for many years.
But Mr Kendall said he listened to both sides of the argument and looked again at the plans and talked to local people and businesses, as well as groups such as Suffolk Wildlife Trust, the National Trust and RSPB, he said.
“I am now completely convinced that Sizewell C will be bad for Suffolk. It will destroy many more jobs than it creates. I haven’t spoken to any employers who live here who think it is good idea for the area once they have fully understood the plans, which is why opposition is growing as we all finally wake up to what is proposed,” he said.
“I do know a few employers who support the plan because they think it happens to suit their business but they can’t explain to me why it is good for the economy and community as a whole. We should make decisions around the best interests of the whole not just a few.”
The main reason he had heard in favour of the scheme was new jobs — but he argued it could have an adverse effect on existing jobs and businesses.
The area had high employment and while there were problems attracting higher paid posts, things were improving, he claimed.
“We need some long term interventions to help those families who struggle to acquire the right skills and means to get on the employment ladder and we need to encourage better training for the future. All that said our local economy is doing pretty well,” he said.
“Parts of it are booming. The tourist industry has taken a hit because of Covid-19 but is expecting a big surge this summer and I see investment in higher standards and more facilities in this sector wherever I go.”
Many farms in his area had tourism sidelines and there was a construction boom — with recruitment the main problem, he said.
“They are desperate and this is beginning to impact on the investment plans for businesses in other sectors. I can think of several things we have put on hold simply because we know we won’t find suitable contractors any time soon.
“EDF talks about investing in skills and I am sure it would for the few people it actually needs once the power station is built but we know that they will try to recruit anyone they can with any necessary skills when it comes to building the power station. Of course the vast majority of workers will be brought in from elsewhere.”
He feared the project would have knock-on effects for other employers’ developments plans which would be halted “for nearly a decade”.
A huge drop in the cost of alternative energy sources also weakened the practical argument for nuclear, he argued.
“There are new breakthroughs every day. Meanwhile the cost of old nuclear just seems to go up and up,” he said.
If government advisers continued to argue one more nuclear plant was needed in the medium term, it should go where employment is truly needed, he said.
The local economy had changed out of all recognition from the days when it was earmarked for its first nuclear station, he pointed out.
“There are parts of Britain, on our west coast like Cumbria and Anglesey, where things aren’t going nearly so well and where the local people apparently do want another nuclear power station. If it is really true that we do need one more and the United Kingdom really thinks it is worth the huge cost then they should get the investment.”
He admitted it had taken him two years to get his “head straight” on the complicated issue, but had been lucky to meet many experts and Whitehall civil servants and government ministers.
“We live in an age where we have to be for or against things when debates are much more complicated. I hate that. There may be a few quite good reasons to build Sizewell C but I have found many more why we shouldn’t. That is why I am opposed to it now.”
A spokeswoman for Sizewell C said nuclear power stations have been delivering reliable electricity and providing long-term rewarding employment in Suffolk for decades and plans for Sizewell C will mean that can continue.
“In the fight against climate change we need more nuclear and renewable generation to replace fossil fuels and those low carbon stations reaching the end of operation,” she said.
“Sizewell C is supported by business organisations across the region. The station will create thousands of local jobs and apprenticeships and a boost in a range of skills. We have plans in place that will ensure local people can make the most of the opportunities that will become available.”