Urban explorers highlight the decay of the highest voltage lab in the world

A group of urban explorers broke into the disused National Renewable Energy Centre, near Newcastle.

Initially opened in 1970, the Clothier Electrical Testing Laboratory was taken over by the New and Renewable Energy Centre – Narec – in 2004.

The organization primarily continued with much of the onshore grid infrastructure technology development and validation work the high voltage lab was originally built for. They also tested the robustness of networks taking power from offshore locations to onshore sites, and was the only facility of its kind in the UK - developing smart grids and new network developments including integrating offshore wind turbines.

One of several Narec centres, Clothier Lab focused on electrical grid aspects of independent research projects and was a test facility for the development of offshore renewable energies including wind, wave, tidal.

However, when the Coalition came into power their pledge to close all regional development agencies meant that One NorthEast had to shut down, which left Narec to review their capacities and maintenance required by the large facility. Narec opted to relocate to a government-supported laboratory on their main campus in Blythe, Northumberland - leaving the Clothier facility, located in Hebburn, abandoned. The building has not been bought by anyone since its closure in 2011. The site remains the property of Siemens, an industrial engineering company.

Green activists have made the claim that the facility's closure was "a massive loss for UK research and development, and shows the real level of the support the government has for green technology research." Narec, however, calls the move beneficial and maintains that they have invested £150m in new facilities which position the UK as "a world-leader in the development of offshore renewable energy technologies" - citing their new Offshore Demonstration Project as evidence.

Last month, a group of urban explorers decided to visit the old factory. These are the pictures they took:

 

Pictures from 28 Days Later (2)

Editor's Note: This article was amended on 11th February 2013 to correct inaccuracies pertaining to the relocation and the work undertaken at the Clothier Testing Laboratory.

The Clothier Electrical Testing Laboratory has been cabandoned since 2011.

Marie le Conte is a freelance journalist.

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The deafening killer - why noise will be the next great pollution scandal

A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. 

Our cities are being poisoned by a toxin that surrounds us day and night. It eats away at our brains, hurts our hearts, clutches at our sleep, and gnaws at the quality of our daily lives.

Hardly a silent killer, it gets short shrift compared to the well-publicised terrors of air pollution and sugars food. It is the dull, thumping, stultifying drum-beat of perpetual noise.

The score that accompanies city life is brutal and constant. It disrupts the everyday: The coffee break ruined by the screech of a line of double decker buses braking at the lights. The lawyer’s conference call broken by drilling as she makes her way to the office. The writer’s struggle to find a quiet corner to pen his latest article.

For city-dwellers, it’s all-consuming and impossible to avoid. Construction, traffic, the whirring of machinery, the neighbour’s stereo. Even at home, the beeps and buzzes made by washing machines, fridges, and phones all serve to distract and unsettle.

But the never-ending noisiness of city life is far more than a problem of aesthetics. A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. Recent studies have linked noise pollution to hearing loss, sleep deprivation, hypertension, heart disease, brain development, and even increased risk of dementia.

One research team compared families living on different stories of the same building in Manhattan to isolate the impact of noise on health and education. They found children in lower, noisier floors were worse at reading than their higher-up peers, an effect that was most pronounced for children who had lived in the building for longest.

Those studies have been replicated for the impact of aircraft noise with similar results. Not only does noise cause higher blood pressure and worsens quality of sleep, it also stymies pupils trying to concentrate in class.

As with many forms of pollution, the poorest are typically the hardest hit. The worst-off in any city often live by busy roads in poorly-insulated houses or flats, cheek by jowl with packed-in neighbours.

The US Department of Transport recently mapped road and aircraft noise across the United States. Predictably, the loudest areas overlapped with some of the country’s most deprived. Those included the south side of Atlanta and the lowest-income areas of LA and Seattle.

Yet as noise pollution grows in line with road and air traffic and rising urban density, public policy has turned a blind eye.

Council noise response services, formally a 24-hour defence against neighbourly disputes, have fallen victim to local government cuts. Decisions on airport expansion and road development pay scant regard to their audible impact. Political platforms remain silent on the loudest poison.

This is odd at a time when we have never had more tools at our disposal to deal with the issue. Electric Vehicles are practically noise-less, yet noise rarely features in the arguments for their adoption. Just replacing today’s bus fleet would transform city centres; doing the same for taxis and trucks would amount to a revolution.

Vehicles are just the start. Millions were spent on a programme of “Warm Homes”; what about “Quiet Homes”? How did we value the noise impact in the decision to build a third runway at Heathrow, and how do we compensate people now that it’s going ahead?

Construction is a major driver of decibels. Should builders compensate “noise victims” for over-drilling? Or could regulation push equipment manufacturers to find new ways to dampen the sound of their kit?

Of course, none of this addresses the noise pollution we impose on ourselves. The bars and clubs we choose to visit or the music we stick in our ears. Whether pumping dance tracks in spin classes or indie rock in trendy coffee shops, people’s desire to compensate for bad noise out there by playing louder noise in here is hard to control for.

The Clean Air Act of 1956 heralded a new era of city life, one where smog and grime gave way to clear skies and clearer lungs. That fight still goes on today.

But some day, we will turn our attention to our clogged-up airwaves. The decibels will fall. #Twitter will give way to twitter. And every now and again, as we step from our homes into city life, we may just hear the sweetest sound of all. Silence.

Adam Swersky is a councillor in Harrow and is cabinet member for finance. He writes in a personal capacity.