The VIP Treatment
Hector Pearson, National Grid’s Planning Policy Manager, explains an exciting opportunity to help us prioritise the use of a new £500m provision to enhance the appearance of national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty.
The natural beauty of the British countryside is incomparable, and nowhere more so than in our national parks and places designated as areas of outstanding natural beauty (AONBs). It’s a living landscape, shaped by the weather, the seasons and the multitude of uses to which we put it.
But while grazing sheep and stone walls and bridges may add to the beauty of our hills and valleys, we all know there are some aspects of this natural environment which could be enhanced. Doing something to hide the impact of electricity lines and pylons – which are necessary for our standard of living – fall in this category.
None of us wants to detract from nationally important landscapes or prevent others from enjoying them. That’s why I’m personally very pleased that the energy regulator, Ofgem, has given us the opportunity to do something constructive about existing electricity lines in England and Wales. Ofgem has set aside £500m to mitigate the visual impact of these lines in national parks and AONBs. We’re calling the project Visual Impact Provision – or VIP for short.
This Visual Impact Provision is an important step to enhancing the protected landscapes that our overhead lines cross. And while we’re passionate about playing our part in conserving some of our most cherished landscapes, we are also very keen to do so in conjunction with those who work tirelessly to protect Britain’s countryside.
So today we’re launching our public consultation on the National Grid policy to improve the impact of existing power lines. There are about 580km of these lines crossing seven national parks and 19 AONBs, so no shortage of places where the money of the Visual Impact Provision could be spent.
We believe there should be a broad consensus on where to spend this £500m, with stakeholders helping us decide on priorities. So we‘re going to set up a Stakeholder Advisory Group, under an independent chairperson, whose members will include representatives of organisations with a national focus on our natural heritage across England and Wales. We need their help to identify areas that would most benefit from visual impact mitigation, and to prioritise them for investment.
The makeup of this group will be announced later in the year. We intend to invite organisations such as the national associations for national parks and AONBs, Campaign for National Parks, The Ramblers, Campaign to Protect Rural England and National Trust, as well as the official agencies with a key interest in the areas, to participate. We look forward to working closely with them to make the most of this important opportunity.
We’re also going to consult widely with our stakeholders and consumers, with the wider public – for example groups and people who use national parks and AONBs, landowners, planning authorities and others – and when definitive proposals begin to take shape, with local residents too.
We’re keen to embrace stakeholders in helping us make informed choices about the locations that will benefit most from the funding available. National Grid is committed to making use of the money because research has shown it’s what consumers want. But it takes time to move major projects like this forward, so we need to act quickly. The public consultations on our draft policy for using the provision start today.
As we see it, there are a number of options open to us which, thanks to the new funding, become very real possibilities. Cables could be buried instead of being run overhead; we could use alternative pylon designs, such as the new T-pylon; we could re-route lines or we could remove them. We could use tree planting and landscaping improvements to screen infrastructure like substations from public viewpoints.
Delivering energy safely, reliably and efficiently is at the core of our business, and so is doing this responsibly. We believe consultation and engagement with stakeholders is the right way to go about doing this.
Once we have received comments, we will publish a policy statement in the autumn and start working with stakeholders to select schemes.
Public consultation works only if members of the public get involved. You don’t have to be an expert, a landowner or a member of an official body to express your point of view, so I would ask you to watch for announcements of our public consultations and take part.