According to sources, opposition leader Keir Starmer has been informed that a Labour government may face less resistance from local communities regarding the construction of green energy infrastructure such as pylons and substations. This is because a majority of the necessary construction will likely take place in Conservative-controlled regions.
A recent study from Public First, revealed to POLITICO, shows that most proposed environmentally-friendly construction projects in the U.K., which are often met with strong opposition from local communities, will be carried out in areas represented by Conservative Members of Parliament.
A government led by Starmer could potentially avoid opposition from vocal “not in my backyard” (NIMBY) campaigns supported by Labour Members of Parliament, which could hinder new development plans.
Labour aims to achieve decarbonization of Britain’s electricity supply by 2030, which is five years earlier than the government’s set deadline. This would involve a significant expansion of renewable energy sources and the electricity grid, including the installation of pylons and power lines.
According to the assessment, there are only three “Red Wall” districts, which are crucial areas that typically supported Labour but shifted to the Conservatives in 2019, that may have new electricity lines as per the preliminary plans for revamping the nation’s energy system. Currently, only one of these affected districts is represented by Starmer’s party.
Efforts to ready the U.K.’s energy provision for achieving net zero emissions may encounter strong resistance from local communities, potentially hindering the implementation of nationwide initiatives for constructing new electricity networks.
The electricity transmission company National Grid predicts that the number of transmission lines needed to be constructed in the next seven years will be five times higher than those built in the last thirty years, in order to meet current clean energy goals.
According to a survey conducted by Public First, approximately 33% of voters would object to the construction of power lines within a three-mile radius of their residence.
The initial analysis from Renewable UK, a trade organization, reveals that the main challenges facing Labour’s 2030 objective are the expenses involved and community resistance towards grid infrastructure. This task is akin to the large-scale construction projects of the post-war period.
Ed Miliband, the Shadow Energy Secretary, has referred to the objective for 2030 as the cornerstone of the party’s net zero strategies. Additionally, Starmer has promised to push through “restrictive” planning regulations in order to facilitate construction projects.
According to a report from Public First, new infrastructure projects would need to overcome regulatory and planning obstacles at a fast pace after the upcoming general election, which is projected to take place next year. The projects would need to begin construction by 2028 in order to have a chance of meeting the goal of decarbonizing by 2030.
“Despite the target date, any government will inevitably face resistance from local communities,” cautioned Amy Norman, associate director at Public First and co-author of the report. She also noted, “According to Public First’s research, the Labour party is less susceptible to opposition from the ‘Not In My Backyard’ electorate compared to the Conservative party.” Norman believes that Labour could potentially benefit by addressing concerns from those who have hindered renewable energy projects, thus proving their effectiveness in getting things accomplished.
The Scottish border and the Red Wall
The consulting firm examined information provided by the National Grid Electricity Systems Operator, who has created a plan called the Holistic Network Design (HND) for a larger electricity system.
Out of the 36 parliamentary districts in the U.K. that will be affected by the HND plans, only one, Easington in north-east England, is currently represented by a Labour party member. According to Public First, only three of these districts, including former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s former Sedgefield district, Blyth Valley in north-east England, and Great Grimsby in Lincolnshire, are considered “former Red Wall seats” that voted for the Conservative party in the 2019 elections.
Regaining power in the general election hinges on Labour’s ability to win back Red Wall seats.
Scotland, with its wealth of offshore wind power, will also be critical to delivering a net zero power grid. Four of the affected constituencies are held by the Scottish National Party, and Public First said a Labour government could “face particular political challenges north of the border.”
The report stated that Scotland plays a crucial role in reaching net zero power goals, both in generating and transmitting energy. However, if Labour wants to achieve this by 2030, they must effectively communicate this significance to the Scottish voters.
According to Public First, a future administration would require a focused public effort, based on survey results about the most impactful statements, to gain widespread support for the 2030 initiative.
It was suggested that a designated minister from the Cabinet Office should be selected to “supervise and manage” the program.
The report was commissioned by Renewable UK, an industry association, and its chief executive Dan McGrail emphasized the importance of including local communities in the transformation of our power system. This can be achieved by clearly outlining the economic, environmental, and local advantages that they can anticipate from this significant change.
The Labour Party was asked for their input.