Daily Mail coverage
This article was printed in the Daily Mail on March 20, 2019
This is how the article appeared on Mail Online on March 20, 2019
The online article can be read by clicking here
This is a slightly longer version of the article.
By Paul Field
I have three wonderful daughters, each born in different countries. Due to my work, we’ve moved a lot and our eldest has lived in six houses in her 14 years. After two decades of fast-paced city life in London, Dublin and New York, my wife Michaela and I decided it was time to put down roots and ease up a bit.
We settled on Suffolk. For Michaela, a landscape artist, its coastline had long been her muse, having been inspired by it on family holidays. Moving to the country five years ago also had the advantage of putting us close to my parents – it was inevitable that in years to come they would need our care.
At first viewing we knew Fir Tree Farm was ideal for raising Olivia, 14, Amelie, 13, and Ruby, 10. Nestled in several acres of land with two ponds and woodland, the 17th century farmhouse gave us the tranquility we longed for. It is so secluded that our only neighbours are acres of arable farmland, hares we watch boxing and huge skies so dark that on clear nights you can see satellites hurtling through space like shooting stars.
We spent the last year getting permission to extend the four-bedroomed farmhouse and replace a dilapidated barn with a new one, so we could provide living accommodation for our parents whose dependency on us has become more pressing in recent months.
Despite the family challenges many couples of our generation face, we know we’re very lucky. Fir Tree Farm and the lifestyle it gives us is a like wearing a warm, cosy jumper on a crisp, frosty morning.
Last September a letter from EDF Energy told us it was launching a final consultation on its plans to build two nuclear reactors at Sizewell, about eight miles from Fir Tree Farm. The letter said our property had been identified as possibly being affected by EDF’s proposals.
I called EDF and was told curtly letters were being sent to hundreds of people. No, they couldn’t say how the Sizewell C plans would affect us. Yes, we’ll be consulted in due course. No, there’s no date for when that will be.
I made inquiries and found someone with knowledge of the plans who said EDF want to build a road from the A12 towards Sizewell and no other property would be impacted as much as ours because the road would go up against the boundary between us and neighbouring farmland. After hearing the news, I was physically sick. So was Michaela when I told her. It struck us both how a home is so much more than a house. We decided not to tell our children until we had a clearer picture.
After making half a dozen calls to EDF for information, I was invited to a meeting by Tom McGarry, Head of Stakeholder Engagement for Sizewell C. ‘We don’t want your property,’ he said. ‘We’ll go round it.’ The first of my interactions with EDF set the tone for the others to come. Paucity of detail and brutally cold communications.
If the letter had been like a snag in our cosy jumper, after catching it on a sharp bramble on a country walk, discovering how EDF’s plans would lay waste to our home was like the yarn unravelling.
Worse was to come when EDF publicly released its proposals in January.
In a field bordering Fir Tree Farm, crops grow on rotation. The only pollution is at harvest time when window sills get a light covering of dust, and we have to remember not to leave washing on the line when a combine harvester is out. The proposals revealed that in this field EDF would locate a construction compound for 300 workers and 175 trucks a day for two years while they build the new road, which would start with a roundabout in the field and run for five miles towards Sizewell where building two nuclear reactors would take 10 years. At the peak of construction, 1,500 HGVs and 6,000 other vehicles a day would thunder past our lovely house.
EDF admits Fir Tree Farm would suffer ‘significant adverse effects’ from noise. It also highlights the only point on the road which would be lit by 33 feet high lighting columns is the proposed roundabout – no more stargazing for us. Oh, and did I mention the air pollution forecasts?
On EDF’s timeline, construction would start in 2021, encompassing the period when two of our daughters would be doing A Levels and GCSEs. Michaela and I both work from home. The level of disruption would make studying and working impossible. How would an artist be expected to paint with pile driving next door? The dust alone would ruin her work, if she were able to focus on it.
The plans we had made for our parents were wrecked as soon as EDF disclosed the road. Yet we still have a pressing need for more room. The last thing Michaela and I want for our daughters is the upheaval of moving from a home we love, but we accepted there is no alternative. Reluctantly, we wrote to EDF to ask them to buy us out. Given the £14 billion cost of Sizewell C, surely EDF could afford to be sympathetic to our situation? Even if they were to only look at it in dispassionate terms, would it not be obvious the road build would have fewer impediments if there were not a family living beside it?
How foolish we were to think EDF would be fair to us. Despite its claim to be consulting widely, EDF doesn’t appear to care about anyone who doesn’t agree with their plans. We felt we were being extremely reasonable, given the huge sacrifice we were willing to make by moving. When we got a response, five weeks later, EDF flatly refused to acquire the property.
Should we try to sell? We paid £685,000 for the house. It was valued at £900,000 before EDF made their plans public. A sale is unrealistic, estate agents told us, unless we slash the price, which would be financially ruinous for us.
Fir Tree Farm is blighted, so we assumed there would be a legal remedy. Alas, no. The first opportunity to formally make a compensation claim for blight is when a proposed road has been approved, which in the case of EDF and Sizewell C is 2021 at the earliest. Blight legislation was drafted in the spirit of fairness to residents impacted by construction, but its bluntness around timing is open to abuse by developers – and it appears here that EDF is exploiting the legislation. Until the road gets a green light – and even then there could be a long and costly legal process to prove blight – we are stuck with a house worth less than we paid for it, which fails to meet our needs.
The feeling of having our hands tied behind our back is bad enough, but this helplessness is compounded by EDF rubbing our nose in it. At a public exhibition, I told Jim Crawford, the executive leading the Sizewell C project, of my frustration that EDF had not engaged with me about our situation. His PR man, Simon Hazelgrove started laughing, as he waved his arms in the direction of the display boards around the room. ‘What do you think this? We’re engaging with you!’ He smirked when I asked: ‘Why are you laughing? There’s nothing funny about the anxiety EDF is causing my family.’
This is not a story of Nimbyism, nor is it an emotive way to make a case against nuclear fuel, although the case against it from renewables is growing stronger. The UK is facing an energy crisis after Hitachi and Toshiba pulled out of plans to build nuclear power stations in Cumbria and North Wales, making the case for Sizewell C compelling.
No, after months of trying to appeal to EDF to treat us fairly, this is about how big business can run roughshod over ordinary people like a bulldozer crushing farmland to make way for a new road. On a personal level, we’ve been struck by how a single event can make you feel like the walls are falling in around you, and you’re powerless to do anything to stop it.
Telling our children they are likely to lose their home was heartbreaking. Ruby, 10, the youngest of our three daughters, ran over to one of the oak beams and hugged it.
‘They can’t take away our lovely house.’ she cried. ‘I won’t let them.’
If only it were as simple as Ruby having her own way.