The UK could launch a review into the onshore impact of offshore wind farms in the east of England, after local members of parliament backed the idea of an ‘offshore ring main’ as an alternative to multiple power links and called for a freeze on planning while the matter is settled, Recharge has learned.

Andrea Leadsom, secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy under the current Conservative government, has promised a group of local Norfolk and Suffolk MPs to look at the environmental impact of onshore infrastructure if her party wins the upcoming general election.

George Freeman, MP for Mid-Norfolk, confirmed he has secured such a commitment from Leadsom. “We hope this development will call into question whether ScottishPower Renewables (SPR) onshore planning applications can proceed in the light of an expected review.”

Iberdrola-owned ScottishPower Renewables is developing a huge offshore wind complex off eastern England, which it on Tuesday announced would proceed as a 3.1GW East Anglia Hub mega-project that it expects to complete by 2026.

Instead of multiple connections making landfall, the MPs claim future planning should be based around a 'ring main' approach where wind farms connect at sea, with a single link bringing power ashore.

Freeman claimed that Iberdrola-owned SPR’s onshore infrastructure would set the precedent for more of the same along the Suffolk coast. “A review has to look at National Grid’s effectiveness as network operator. They provide the grid connection offers, are the main contributing factor directing these projects and associated onshore infrastructure to specific areas in Norfolk and Suffolk.”

Jonathan Cole, managing director for Iberdrola’s global offshore wind business, told Recharge that “the way in which we design, consent and ultimately build all of our sub-stations and grid routes has been completely done with the local community in mind.”

Speaking before the East Anglia Hub announcement, Cole said: “What we have done with East Anglia 1 (EA1) is to build all the onshore infrastructure for both EA1 and East Anglia 3 (EA3) at the same time in order to do that work once, not twice, to minimise construction disruption to the local community. And our plans for the other two sites – East Anglia 1 North (EA1N) and East Anglia 2 (EA2) – is to do a very similar thing building them together to minimise disruption.”

SPRs planning applications for the EA1N and EA2 onshore sites were submitted to the UK’s Planning Inspectorate at the end of October. The two applications will run in parallel, although they have been submitted separately.

“In the longer term under any of the political scenarios currently being put forward for increased wind deployment in order to reach the UK’s 2050 net-zero emissions goal it is probably time to move to a much more strategically planned offshore electricity network, rather than building individual project-by-project grid connections to shore,” said Cole.

“If you look at it in a strategically planned way you create a more efficient network with better redundancy and an improved capability to smooth out the wind; you do it in a way which is ultimately less expensive because you have lots of synergies in the design process; and you end up having a positive impact locally as there is less infrastructure coming onshore.”

Cole said that there are a few areas on the east coast of England – not just in the south-east but also further north – where the idea of a planned offshore wind link makes a huge amount of sense. “We would absolutely welcome participating in any process to make that happen.

“However to do this would involve changing the regulatory process that currently exists, and would involve multiple stakeholders in order to achieve something which would take several years to implement.

“In the meantime what you shouldn’t do is disrupt any of the new East Anglia projects which are currently being advanced – such as the EA1N and EA2 developments – which should be built in the responsible way we are currently planning.”

What you shouldn’t do is disrupt any of the new East Anglia projects.

Cole said government planning for a new offshore grid network off the east coast should start now so that it would be in place to link in wind projects resulting from the Crown Estate’s Round 4 leasing, expected to be delivered towards the back end of the 2020s.

It is understood ministers promised to carry out the review following a meeting with Freeman; Norman Lamb, MP for North Norfolk; and Therese Coffey, MP for Suffolk Coastal.

However, a Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy spokesman told Recharge that no review would be unveiled before the 12 December general election.