“The ugliest” pylons in four Areas of Oustanding National Beauty (AONB) are to be replaced with underground cables in a £500million project allocated by the Office of Gas and Electricity Markets (Ofgem) to the National Grid. A total of 45 pylons will be removed across the New Forest, the Peak District, Dorset and Snowdonia, while a further eight shortlisted areas will benefit from a smaller fund for above-land improvements.
Speaking to BBC Countryfile Magazine, Stuart Larque, Head of the National Grid’s UK Relations, said National Grid research suggested the nation would be in support of the improvements.
Reducing the visual impact of electricity transfer in our most breathtaking landscapes may be a popular move, but implementation isn’t at all straightforward. A 50m-wide trench will need to be dug up to 2m in depth across often rocky terrain, sometimes of archeological importance. Some stretches may need to use hidden lines aboveground; as environmental consultant Chris Baines told The Guardian, “we also have to make sure the treatment isn’t worse than the disease.”
‘Undergrounding’ the cables will cost the average British household 22p per annum, an increase which according to The Telegraph will need to be sustained over the next 40 years. A further £24m has been set aside for other means of reducing the visual impact of pylons in the eight areas not selected for the cabling scheme: Brecon Beacons National Park, High Weald AONB, North Wessex Downs AONB and the Tamar Valley AONB. Methods such as planting woodland and filling in gaps in hedgerows “could enhance biodiversity, benefit cultural heritage or raise awareness of natural and historic features of a landscape”, the National Grid claims.
Underground cables could also be a good thing for the renewable energy sector, helping to reduce the impact of harvesting energy in controversial landscapes. The National Grid has already earmarked more than £10bn for new transmission lines from wind farms and nuclear sites by 2021, and Stuart Larque told BBC Countryfile Magazine that if this current scheme is a success we can hope to see more uninterrupted, pylon-free views across the British Isles in future.
Words by Agnes Davis