Didcot A power station has stood tall above the countryside in the south of Oxfordshire for 50 years. But its demolition is stirring up mixed feelings among residents.
THE striking silhouettes of its cooling towers have divided opinions for five decades.
But now the Didcot A power station’s detractors may finally breathe a sigh of relief as it is demolished this month, 50 years on from when it was first given the go-ahead.
The towers been part of the landscape for decades though and not everyone will be happy to see them go.
Their demolition has been steeped in controversy, ever since owner nPower revealed it would take place between 3am and 5am on July 27.
But those wanting to bid farewell to the iconic landmark say the company is literally keeping them in the dark about one of the most notable events to happen in the area.
Residents in surrounding villages and Didcot have demanded it be pushed back later, to 6am, so they can witness the historic event, with 80 per cent of online readers in an Oxford Mail poll saying they’d like to see the towers fall at a reasonable hour.
But owner nPower has defended its decision, claiming it was reached after extensive discussions with local authorities including Network Rail, the Highways Agency, Thames Valley Police and Oxfordshire County Council.
According to the firm, the different authorities had requested it take place at that time.
Spokesman Kelly Brown said: “The date and time of the three southern cooling towers’ explosive demolition has been the subject of careful consultation.”
She said the decision to carry out the demolition of the three cooling towers, which will occur rapidly in less than a minute, was being done early on a Sunday morning to minimise disruption to the roads and other transport such as trains.
The company has also justified the early time by saying it will distract fewer drivers, with fewer cars on the road.
They said it would allow them to check railway lines for dust and debris without holding up services.
Ms Brown added: “This is just the first milestone in the demolition of Didcot A Power Station, but will be a significant change to the local landscape.
“We understand that the power station has been part of the local community for over 42 years and for many people the demolition of these first three cooling towers will mark a significant day for Didcot and Oxfordshire.”
But mayor of Didcot Scott Wilgrove, disgarees and wants to see the towers come down at a time when residents can be invovled.
He said: “I understand peoples’ frustration. I have lived here my whole life and I would like to see them come down.”
More than 1,600 people so far have signed a petition to demand that nPower push the demolition to 6am.
Resident Christine Reardon, 44, of Meadow Way, Didcot, launched the online campaign on Friday to ensure people in her neighbourhood could see “the biggest thing in Didcot’s history”. People wanting to sign it can do so at ow.ly/yzLMp/
Didcot and Wantage MP Ed Vaizey even joined the debate, describing it as a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity for people to say farewell to the towers. He wrote to nPower asking them to change the time, provide accurate information about the demolition time so people could assemble properly and also asked that the company works with the local council to set-up designated viewing areas to guarantee the safety of onlookers.
David Buckle, chief executive of South Oxfordshire and Vale of White Horse District Councils, hit out at nPower, branding the decision “disappointing” and asking for them to review the timings.
Oxfordshire County Council was asked by the Oxford Mail what it had recommended to nPower, but the local authority did not respond to our request.
The Oxford Mail also asked Thames Valley Police what it had said to the energy company, but it too did not respond.
- Residents who wish to contact nPower about the demolition can email email@example.com
Fossil-fuel power generation once name of the game
A group of workers toast their work in 1968 on top of the power station's 650ft chimney
A 2,000 megawatt coal and gas-powered facility, in its lifetime the Didcot Power Station generated 236,000 gigawatt hours of electricity and burned more than 98,192,721 tonnes of coal.
The massive powerhouse cost £104m to build and at the peak of its construction, started with digging in 1964 requiring about 2,400 workers.
From left, Martin Hinkley, Gerry McMenemy and Lee Denney prepare for the power station’s final Christmas in 2012
To build just the main foundations, 470,000 tonnes of concrete was needed.
Designs came from Sir Frederick Gibberd, the man also responsible for Heathrow Airport, as well as the imposing Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral.
He had been commissioned by the Central Electricity Generating Board in 1964, three years before he was eventually knighted, and was well-known as a leading post-war town planner at the time. He retired in 1978 and passed away in 1984.
The partly built cooling towers
Years later a treasure-trove of his original designs for the power station would be found in the back of a filing cabinet in the coal plant.
They have now been presented to the Royal Institute of British Architects.
New horizons beckoning for residents
Sutton Courtenay Parish Council chairman and life-long village resident Michael Jenkins, seen at the top of this article, said the cooling towers had been a feature on the horizon for as long as he can remember.
The 67-year-old, who lives two miles from the plant, said: “If I look out my front window they are there, but I don’t really notice it any more. It’s strange, but when you see them you almost feel like you are close to home.
“I was an apprentice with the Southern Electricity Board when the whole thing was being built.”
At that time, he said, there were several groups formed to try to stop the construction. But since then relationships have improved and now there is even a liaison committee to keep parish councils informed about the station’s activities.
“People have grown used to it and recently there have even been attempts to try to preserve it. Many people here wouldn’t oppose the towers going, but I think it will be done with some fondness.
“No one wants to live next to a power station, but like most things you get used to it.”
The cooling towers were even featured on emblems emblazoned on his school uniforms while growing up, at Stephen Freeman Community Primary School, Mr Jenkins said.
“I guess if the school is built next to it, it is as good as anything else to use on the badge.”
But, he said, one of the strangest knock-on effects of the station was the snow it caused. “What people noticed was that often we would have snow when other areas didn’t. That was because the vapour from the towers used to freeze and fall over the villages.
“If the conditions were right you could sometimes see a trail of frozen steam across the countryside.”
1964: The Government approves the power station scheme.
- 1964: Excavation work begins as part of construction of Didcot A.
1970: Unit 1 synchronised and generates electricity for the first time.
- 1984: Power station rumbles on as miners around the UK strike in protest against pit closures. Picket holders from South Wales stage a round-the-clock demonstration outside the plant.
1997: Gas-fired Didcot B, capable of producing 1,360 megawatts of electricity, is built alongside the coal-fired station.
- 2006: Greenpeace break into Didcot A as Prime Minister Tony Blair visits the county and paint ‘Blair’s Legacy’ on the 650ft stack. The disruption to power generation costs £690,000.
2008: It is announced Didcot A is likely to close by the end of 2015.
- 2009: Twenty Camp for Climate Action protestors break into Didcot A and occupy the tall chimney and a coal conveyor.
2010: Staff at Didcot A celebrate 40 years of generating electricity.
- 2012: RWE nPower confirm that Didcot A will close on March 31, 2013.
2013: Didcot A closes.
- 2014: Demolition of Didcot A begins.