Fears Morecambe Bay tunnel site may cause six years of hell for residents

A map of Heysham showing where the extended substation and new tunnel head will go (blue triangle) close to the existing substation (black triangle) and the route of the new underground tunnel (purple dash line).
A map of Heysham showing where the extended substation and new tunnel head will go (blue triangle) close to the existing substation (black triangle) and the route of the new underground tunnel (purple dash line).
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Residents face six years of disruption from work on an underground power tunnel near Heysham.

Electricity giants National Grid have been urged to explain how building a tunnel head at Middleton would affect the lives of homeowners who live just 40m away.

The works close to the Middleton electrical substation would be part of a new £2.8bn power line under Morecambe Bay.

The new connection - including 163km of overhead lines and underground cables from Harker near Carlisle to Heysham and a tunnel under the Bay between Middleton and Roosecote in Barrow – would connect a new station at Moorside near Sellafield to the electricity network.

But Lancaster City Council has revealed major worries about the Middleton end of the project.

This includes plans to extend the existing substation and build a ‘tunnel head house’ at Middleton. A site office, car parks, treatment tanks, muck bins, plants and storage centres would be part of the construction site.

Colin Hartley, Lancaster city councillor for Heysham South, said “This is a six year construction site.

“I am keen to see employment in the area so there are pluses to it. But what impact is this going to have on residents who live on nearby estates who have already been affected by the Dong Energy (onshore wind farm substation) work at Heysham? Can’t it be built on the other side of the Heysham bypass?”

A council report says the National Grid needs to:

*Explain how building the tunnel-head at Middleton would affect nearby homes in terms of noise, vibrations, dust and smells

*Provide information about the size of the tunnel-head

*Explain how they would protect against flood risk around the tunnel-head area

*Guarantee at least 20 per cent of the estimated 380 workers on the site would be local

*Use the railway – not the roads – to move building materials and workers to and from the site

Coun Hartley has called for a disused section of railway line, which used to run up to the old ICI site at Middleton, to be reopened to help with transport to and from the site.

But National Grid is thought to favour a “multi-modal” approach to site transport because there is “limited capacity” on the local rail network. The city council planning department disputes this claim.

The report also says there is “little information” and “significant omissions” in National Grid’s plans and “no satisfactory mitigation or compensation proposed” for nearby residents. There are also fears the tunnel-head site could affect nearby Heysham Moss and cause a loss of habitat for wildlife.

Lancaster City Council planning committee will meet on December 12 to decide their official response to the plans as part of National Grid’s public consultation which runs until January 6.

The tunnel, which will pass below six residential houses and five park homes in south Heysham, would be needed to meet future energy demand if the new power station goes ahead.

Hi-tec tunnel boring machines would be used to drill an average depth of 30-40m below ground.

NuGen, a partnership between Toshiba in Japan and French company ENGIE, is due to make a final decision in 2018 on whether to proceed with the new power station.

National Grid presented their plans for the ‘North West Coast Connections’ scheme at a public event at Heysham Library on November 24.

We contacted National Grid for a statement but had not received one as we went to press. However, Robert Powell, project manager, said earlier in the week: “We’ve worked hard to develop a project which we believe strikes the best balance between reducing the impact of the project on the environment and the cost of building the connection which is passed on to energy bill payers.”

The project website can be found HERE.