The Impact of Pylons

The proposed super-grid comprising of sections of 275kV and 400kV overhead line (OHL) supported on steel lattice pylons of up to 50m in height will dominate the landscape and although best practice guidelines exist for the siting of OHLs and pylons [6] this can only help mitigate the visual impact not remove it altogether. Sub-stations too can dominate an area due to their physical size and interconnected infrastructure and are themselves subject to best-practice guidelines [7].

As a transmission licence holder for the south of Scotland, SPEN (2015, p.2) recognise their duty under Schedule 9 of the Electricity Act 1989 which includes, “… to do what it reasonably can to mitigate any effects which the proposals would have on the natural beauty of the countryside…” which is interpreted by SPEN as balancing the technical requirements against the least disturbance to the environment and the people who live, work and enjoy the recreation within it [8]. Using these guiding principles SPEN claims that evidence from technical, economic and environmental factors lead, in most cases, to an OHL approach but they recognise there may be specific cases where undergrounding may be appropriate [9].

Unfortunately, until recent times, the economic appraisal between OHL and undergrounding or other forms of mitigation have been performed using a simple capital cost estimate which has tended to favour OHLs as the preferred option. The Beauly-Denny line, for example, found a range of cost-escalation factors of between 7.1 – 15.6 for undergrounding compared to a 400kV OHL depending on the landscape character, presence of water courses, viaducts, road crossings and so on [10]. A more recent report [11], however, takes account of whole life-cycle costs for a 400kV transmission infra-structure and finds the average escalation factor to be in the region of 4.6 but recognises the actual value will be sensitive to a number of factors such as the length undergrounded and the load factor.

To most people living, working or enjoying recreation within Dumfries & Galloway, this proposed project brings few obvious benefits given the already high levels of reliability and availability of electricity supply. On the other hand, in its current form – based on OHLs and pylons – it is easy to foresee a number of dis-benefits such as a fall in residential visual amenity, (vi) reduction in property values adjacent to the route [12], negative impact on tourism together with a fall in seasonal employment from this sector, a general reduction in the perception of well-being [13], potential loss of historic and cultural heritage as well as the possibility of destructive environmental impacts to flora, fauna and wildlife.

The fundamental indicators of economic well-being for Dumfries & Galloway are already fragile with a continuing decline in private sector employment making it difficult to create future wealth from a diminishing business base [14]. Furthermore, Dumfries & Galloway has the 7th lowest Gross Value Added (GVA) contribution of all 32 local authority areas in Scotland with a GVA/capita of 74.9% of the UK average in 2011 [15] and one which declined by almost 6% over the period 2000
– 2009 [16]. It is also classed as a predominantly rural-region in which the primary industry of agriculture, forestry and fishing supported by the tertiary sector in the form of tourism and hospitality provide a significant contribution to the wealth of the area [17].

The outstanding quality of rural Dumfries & Galloway’s natural and historic environment has helped underpin opportunities to develop rural recreation which together with tourism has aided the diversification of the traditional land based sector through the provision of accommodation, marketing of local products to visitors and access to recreational facilities with encouragement and support from local as well as the Scottish Government [18]. This emphasis on tourism and recreation in the broadest sense has been successfully exploited within Dumfries & Galloway to the extent it now supports 5,977 full-time equivalent jobs from direct tourism-related expenditure and a further 1,358 jobs from indirect revenue streams. In 2009 the total contribution to the economy of the region from tourism was £270m or 11% of GVA [19] which emphasises the importance of this sector to the regional economy when compared to the lesser 8.5% contribution from Scotland’s tourism sector overall in 2013 [20].

Tourism is therefore seen as an increasingly important component of the Dumfries & Galloway’s rural economy, both in terms of jobs and wealth creation, where in 2015 income from this sector rose for the first-time beyond £300m; attracting more than 2,000,000 visitors with an average spend of £150 [21]. However, to enable this sector to continue growing through attracting increasing visitor numbers requires careful management of the natural beauty of the area and preservation of the visual amenity and historic and cultural environments.

While SPEN will aim to do all in their power to select a route that has a strong focus on local population and environmental sensitivity [22], by utilising the Holford [6] and Horlock [7] rules their present proposal will inevitably lead to one or more forms of economic loss which residents of the region will be expected to bear. The National Grid (2015, p.2) are forthright on this matter in relation to the potential fall in house prices, “… the effect on property value is not a material consideration…” [23]. The overall impact on the region from this project in its current form, at both a personal and business level, is therefore expected to be negative and it is likely that even though most people will recognise the necessity for the project they will oppose it simply because of the potential impact it may have on them, their family and their livelihoods.

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