Power line emotions running high

EMOTIONS are starting to run high over the proposed route for a new 400 KV power line from Hinckley Point to Avonmouth, and understandably so.

EMOTIONS are starting to run high over the proposed route for a new 400 KV power line from Hinckley Point to Avonmouth, and understandably so. At its root lies the undemocratic way in which planning decisions are made in this country and the limited rights of those affected by the decisions.

The issue is made stark by the way that the laws on compensation are framed in our country. They were clearly made in an age when Parliament was dominated by landed gentry and laws were passed by them to protect their interests. Thus we now have a situation where it is the landowner who receives compensation for the placement of pylons, regardless of the proximity of his home, whilst occupants of homes in the immediate vicinity are entitled to virtually nothing save perhaps a small sum related to the noise created.

The power transmission company is mandated by law to choose the route which minimises cost. But the definition of cost they use is a very narrow one and does not include the cost imposed on local residents who lose visual amenity and consequent loss of value on the property they own. The loss of adjacent property value is very real and a readily estimated quantity and is a component of the true total cost of the solution adopted, but the law as it stands does not allow that 'externalised' cost to be accounted in the decision making process. It should be mentioned that a significant proportion of the loss of value of adjacent properties is due to the public perception that power lines present a health risk, and whilst this perception exists, the loss of value will remain real and needs to be compensated. If proper compensation for all of the costs were made including to those neighbours who bear the costs as a loss of property value, then a just and equitable decision would be arrived at which best serves the interests of the whole community without exploiting a section of the community who would otherwise effectively be robbed by the rest of us. English law does not allow such compensation, which represents an injustice, and must be changed.

The true choice then to be made is not over the route but whether to bury the cables, or compensate adjacent properties for open air pylons. Open air pylons cost about �2 million per mile, underground cables would cost between �24-�34 million per mile, if the cost of fair and justifiable compensation exceeds the difference, then the choice is to bury the cables and pay no compensation, if compensation is cheaper than burying cables then we will have pylons and compensate their neighbours. To put into context the sums of money involved, consider the retail value of the 3.6GW of power being transmitted. If retailed at 10 pence per KW Hour, the annual value of the transmitted power would be �3 billion. To bury the entire 37 miles would cost at most an extra �555 million. If we used a discount cost of capital of 10 per cent, that equates to an annual cost of �55 million, or an extra 1.7 per cent on the price of the electricity transmitted.

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With the law as it exists today, where the possibility of consequential compensation is not admitted, we are offered a false choice between two similar routes, which leaves communities the only alternative of organising local opposition in the hope of creating sufficient pressure to force some sections of line to be buried. Neither of these outcomes necessarily represents the lowest true cost or a just and fair solution and by disrupting the planning process cause considerable delay and further cost, wasted effort and community division.

The power line issue is just a specific instance of a more general problem of the approach to major infrastructure planning in our country, and one which the current Government has sought to address by moving further in the wrong direction by creating a more authoritarian and draconian planning process in the Infrastructure Planning Commission, rather than recognising the rights to compensation of affected neighbours.

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If compensation to affected individuals was a recognised right, then in cases involving ugly, unsightly or otherwise undesirable infrastructure such as wind farms, power stations and motorways, we would be better able to make timely infrastructure decisions in a less confrontational manner, which placed the correct value on our environment rather than engaging in a race to the bottom to find the cheapest ugliest ways to meet the needs of a narrowly defined economy rather than the wider interests of society which the economy is supposed to serve.

Until the law is changed the only recourse of affected individuals is to organise opposition and protest, which may occasionally be successful in overturning the plans of the authorities, producing an outcome which is even more expensive than fair and just compensation for the original plans.

Finally, whilst compensation will not always be to the satisfaction of everybody, it will at least give, to the few who find the situation particularly unpleasant, the financial wherewithal to move away.


Barns Close, Nailsea

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