Today Didcot A will be thrown onto the scrap heap. No longer considered fit for purpose under EU law, it is set to be turned off after 14:00, even though it has many years of life in it yet. Its only job now is a lonely agonising wait for demolition of the cooling towers, chimney and turbine hall. Unhelpfully the closure is at a time when we are being warned of a looming energy crisis.
Odd as it may seem there are mixed emotions locally at its closure. One woman noted on local news that; “I’m sad ‘cos it’s a landmark innit…?”, a view echoed, albeit slightly more elegantly by Didcot Town Council leader Margaret Davies:
“The cooling towers are so large, and the power station has been such a big part of our lives that it’s hard to believe it is not going to be powering away any more.
The cooling towers have been a reassuring sight, a friendly giant, but the closure paves the way for when the cooling towers will be demolished and vanish completely from the skyline.”
A landmark it most certainly is even though it resides as comfortably and inconspicuously in the Oxfordshire countryside as Eric Pickles in a salad bar.
But many memories and fond thoughts. Once I was collared by a motorist as I was walking back from town asking for directions to the power station. My reply of; “take the next left, left again and it will be on your right – you can’t miss it” must have been one of the easiest directions I have ever given to a motorist. One can never forget either the windows rattling when it fired up or the conclusions of the environmental survey when you buy a house which noted that there is a power station nearby – as if you haven’t noticed.
We remember other quirks also. Despite being called Didcot Power Station, it doesn’t actually reside in Didcot, instead in the parish of a village called Sutton Courtney – more well known for the burial place of George Orwell and British Prime Minister Herbert Asquith. Rumours have persisted locally for many years that underhand persuasion was used for it not to be called Sutton Courtney power station when it was built.
And despite being voted the third worst eyesore in Britain, it’s often forgotten that it won architectural awards when it opened. Designed by the British sculptor Henry Moore – his biggest piece- the cooling towers were positioned in such a way that all six towers could not be seen in their entire completeness from anywhere in Oxfordshire. A clever, yet subtle use of perspective, designed to limit the station’s impact on the surrounding environment.
The loss of history and ‘be careful what you wish for’ reminds us of the Blackburn Meadows Power Station in Sheffield, the two cooling towers which resided next to the M1, and was portrayed in the film The Full Monty, were only demolished 28 years after the power station closed – against much local opposition.
But it’s an end of an era, an era that once thought that keeping the lights on was more important than implementing a flawed ideology.
Didcot A leaves behind a wife (Didcot B) and 1000’s of children who live on benefits.