CAMPAIGNERS have criticised a nuclear energy company's announcement concerning the height of cooling towers.

Horizon Nuclear Power, the firm behind plans to build a new nuclear plant at Shepperdine near Oldbury, announced last week that 70 metre high cooling towers were its preferred option.

It said previously that it was considering both 70 metre hybrid towers and 200 metre natural draught towers, which would have to be built as part of the new station.

Tim Proudler, planning and consents manager for the project, said: "This has been a big decision for Horizon. Natural draught cooling towers have real advantages. They're cleverly designed to move air without the use of electricity, and could be said to be the obvious technical choice, being cost-effective, easy to maintain and sustainable.

"However, we appreciate that these would be a prominent feature in the local landscape. Some of the visual impact could be improved by careful arrangement, but after discussion with, and listening to, the local community, we wanted to respond."

However, the announcement has not been welcomed by members of the community.

Reg Illingworth, chairman of Shepperdine Against Nuclear Energy, said: "They still seem to be reserving the right to use the natural draught cooling towers.

"The towers are just one concern. This feels like a bit of PR to appease the community."

Mr Proudler said the announcement last week was not a PR stunt but genuine commitment by Horizon towards the hybrid design.

He said: "We have a very clear view of the natural draught towers, and have a preference towards hybrid cooling towers.

"As an engineer you could argue they are not the best thing but this is about achieving an acceptable balance and we have had a very clear message from people."

Steve Webb, MP for Thornbury and Yate, said: "It is a step in the right direction. The cooling towers are a big issue but far from being the only issue.

"Up to four 70 metre cooling towers will make the estuary look very different. The campaign goes on."

Matthew Riddle, South Gloucestershire councillor for the Severn ward, added: "These 70 metre hybrid cooling towers are hardly inconspicuous and we will still need to consider their impact when we see Horizon's firm proposals."

Horizon will be holding a series of drop-in sessions next month at Oldbury Memorial Hall on Monday, October 4 (3-9pm), and Thornbury Leisure Centre on Wednesday, October 6 (3-9pm).