Wildlife groups have criticised plans to build a new nuclear power station on the Suffolk coast, warning it could harm important nature in the area.
But the move by energy giant EDF to submit the application for the 3.2-gigawatt Sizewell C nuclear plant has been welcomed by unions and businesses.
EDF says its proposed new nuclear plant would generate enough “always-on” low-carbon electricity to power six million homes and create 25,000 jobs and 1,000 apprenticeships during construction.
It will also provide 900 skilled jobs over its operating lifetime and support UK energy resilience by reducing the need for imports, the company said.
The application for a development consent order to the Planning Inspectorate was delayed for two months due to the coronavirus pandemic, but questions have been raised about the decision to put in the submission during lockdown.
EDF said extra measures will be put in place to make it easier for local communities to scrutinise the proposals once they are published.
But wildlife groups have said the scheme should not go ahead as it will harm important habitats around the site on the Suffolk coast.
Suffolk Wildlife Trust (SWT) said construction would lead to the loss of rare fen habitat.
Ben McFarland, SWT’s conservation manager, said: “Current plans suggest the direct loss of nationally important and protected land on Sizewell Belts, a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).
“An area between 10-12 hectares – or roughly 10 football pitches – will be covered in concrete. The loss of this nationally rare fen habitat would be devastating and irreplaceable.”
The RSPB said the development would affect its Minsmere nature reserve, potentially affecting water levels in the wetlands which would harm rare wildlife such as water voles, bitterns and otters.
Noise and light pollution from construction would have a detrimental effect on marsh harriers and wading birds, the wildlife charity said.
The Stop Sizewell C campaign group which opposes the scheme warns it is costly, diverts investment from other green energy sources such as renewables and would damage tourism and nature in the area.
But Justin Bowden, GMB union national secretary, said: “GMB welcomes the EDF planning consent order application which will be crucial if the UK is to have sufficient reliable energy to keep the lights on, homes and businesses powered and to meet net-zero targets.
“A balanced energy mix, which includes new nuclear and green gas, is crucial as intermittent wind and solar on their own cannot meet the UK’s energy needs.”
John Dugmore, chief executive of Suffolk Chamber of Commerce, said: “The Suffolk business community is very supportive of this crucial project, both in terms of potential contracts and the skills boost.”
The planning process is likely to take 18 months to complete and the Government will make the final decision on whether to give the green light to the scheme.