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North west coast connection project

What is the North West Coast Connection project and how has it come about?

The United Kingdom (UK) is committed to reducing climate changing greenhouse gases. The National Grid has a vital role to play, as new low carbon electricity generators replace a quarter of our power stations over the next 10 years. In the North West of England, this means upgrading and developing the electricity transmission network to provide secure connections for a new power station on the west coast of Cumbria, as well as a number of offshore wind farms in the Irish Sea. All of these projects are important to the Government's drive to 'keep Britain's lights on' and ensure that the country's future energy supplies are secure and sustainable, whilst at the same time meeting the UK's carbon reduction targets.

In Cumbria and Lancashire, a number of new electricity generating companies have asked the National Grid to provide them with connections to the national electricity network. The National Grid currently has connection agreements in place with NuGeneration Limited for its proposed new 3.2GW nuclear power station, known as Moorside, which will be built on a site adjacent to the existing Sellafield site in West Cumbria, as well as a number of offshore wind farms in the Irish Sea.

There is currently no electricity transmission network serving West Cumbria, so it is the National Grid's job to look at how and where to reinforce the existing electricity network in the North West to provide the connections required for these energy projects. There is a significant amount of preparatory work needed and the National Grid is working with local authorities from the outset to ensure that local people will be properly engaged and consulted with at the right times and local views will help shape the eventual outcome.

The North West Coast Connections Project is regarded as a 'nationally significant infrastructure project', which means that the final application for the Project will be submitted to the Planning Inspectorate. These applications, for what is known as 'development consent', are for large projects, including new power generation and overhead electricity transmission connections with an operating voltage of 132,000 volts or above. Once accepted, the National Grid's application for development consent will be fully scrutinised and a recommendation to grant or refuse it will be made to the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, who will take a final decision on the application.

What is our role?

Although the Planning Inspectorate handles the planning application, the process requires a substantial amount of involvement from those local planning authorities across Cumbria and Lancashire which might be effected by changes to the National Grid infrastructure. We are one of the 12 local authorities who have agreed to work closely with the National Grid on this project, to ensure local communities are informed of plans to upgrade and reinforce the existing electricity transmission system to connect new power-generating sources in the North West, and that their views are captured and taken into account as the project develops. This working relationship with the National Grid has been formalised in a Planning Performance Agreement (PPA) which sets out how local communities and decision makers will be engaged in the planning process that will help shape the proposals for the North West Coast Connections (NWCC) Project.  It is not our role, or any of the other local authorities involved in the PPA, to make sure the NWCC Project happens. Our role is rather to ensure that the right level of engagement and scrutiny takes place, so local views are properly captured throughout the planning process, in order that a fully informed decision is made by the Planning Inspectorate.

What happens next and how can I get involved?

Since 2009, the National Grid has been working together with local authorities and key groups from across Cumbria and Lancashire to explore how these new energy projects could connect to the existing electricity transmission system. Initially, the National Grid identified six broad options, known as Strategic Options, for connecting these new energy projects with the existing transmission system. These six options were the focus for an initial technical consultation which ran over a ten week period from 11 May to 19 July 2012. The National Grid sought feedback on the Strategic Options themselves, as well as any issues stakeholders believed it should consider when it came to making a decision on which Strategic Option (or Strategic Options) to take forward for further development. Having taken on board the views expressed during this consultation, the National Grid announced, in October 2012, that it had decided to take two of the options it consulted on forward to the next stage of the development process. Both of the options taken forward would see the creation of a power ring that connects into the existing electricity network near Carlisle, runs round the West Cumbrian coast line, before continuing south into Lancashire. As well as providing the National Grid with the opportunity to explore a range of different technologies to deliver a new connection, these options could also provide any new energy projects coming forward in the future, with a link into the national grid.

When announcing its decision, the National Grid published two reports; One setting out how and why it made its decision on which strategic options to take forward, Strategic Options Report (SOR). The second report explains how the views expressed during the initial consultation were used to inform the National Grid's decision, outlined in the Consultation Feedback Report (CFR).

The National Grid is now assessing the two Strategic Options being taken forward to identify potential route corridors where new infrastructure could be located. Work is focused on looking for onshore routes to the north of Moorside where there is the potential to follow the path of existing low voltage power lines which are operated by Electricity North West Limited.

To the south of Moorside, the National Grid is also considering routes where there is the potential for a new connection to follow the path of existing power lines, as well as any available routes offshore through the Irish Sea, and a tunnel under Morecambe Bay. Once the work to identify and develop potential route corridors is complete, the National Grid will consult with local communities on the routes it has identified. Consultation events will be publicised in advance and people will be able to meet with members of the NWCC team to discuss the Project in more detail and provide their views on the potential routes that have been identified. These views and comments will be taken into account by the National Grid when it comes to deciding which routes to take forward to the next stage of the development process.

The National Grid is committed to being open and engaged throughout the process and is encouraging people to register on their North West Coast Connections Project website for further information and updates.