Sparks fly at North Somerset pylon meeting
By Prue_Reid | Monday, November 26, 2012, 18:32
It was standing room only at a high profile meeting with three West Country MPs in North Somerset on Saturday to discuss the new pylon route disclosed by the National Grid this month.
North Somerset MP Liam Fox chaired the open forum with contributions from Weston-super-Mare MP John Penrose and Wells MP Tessa Munt.
Dr Fox led the debate called There Is A Better Way with invited representatives of the National Grid and the Campaign to Protect Rural England organised by Nailsea Action Against Pylons group led by Fiona Erleigh.
Published at the beginning of November the initial reaction to the National Grid draft route for the new 37-mile, 400,000 volt power line between Bridgwater and Avonmouth has been mixed.
Television agent John Miles said fellow residents of 'millionaire's row' at Clapton-in-Gordano would do everything possible to stop a huge 160ft pylon being built on their doorstep 'legal and illegal'.
Shocked Portbury villagers said a surprise diversion to the consultation route would affectively 'cut our community in half'.
And a Sheepway resident told how his backdoor would be only yards from the pylons but if National Grid adheres to safety recommendations the alternative would be to plant the metal structure in the middle of the M5.
Despite atrocious weather condition hundreds of people had journeyed from across the area to attend the meeting at Nailsea Methodist Church.
There was thunderous applause and loud cheering to calls to put the proposed power connection underground.
But a National Grid team headed by major infrastructure development manager David Mercer said it was his statutory duty to follow government policy and use the most 'cost effective' method to 'keep the lights on' even if the technology dated back to the 1920s.
It would cost between £16-18 million per kilometre to underground a 400,000 volt line against between £2.2 and £4.2 million for overhead cables.
The total cost of the project is currently estimated as £220 million, said Mr Mercer.
Dr Fox said he was looking forward to seeing the contents of the coalition government's new energy bill especially its green generation proposals for environmentally sensitive transmitting.
Introducing his fellow MPs Dr Fox said: "This is something that has been non-party political and we have argued very much as regional members of parliament and supported one another in the House of Commons especially during my adjournment debate when Tessa and I have acted as a double act.
"We have had slightly different outcomes as I think as John has had a bit more of what he was asking for when it comes to the Mendips and I think it is fair to say that Tessa is utterly dissatisfied having got virtually nothing she asked for but I am sure they are both capable of saying this for themselves."
Commenting on the five miles through the Mendips which will go underground Mr Penrose said: "I would just like to thank all the campaigners in the room as we have thus far had one very, very significant win.
"It is only on one part of the route and there are many other concerns but I think it would be very wrong not to mention victories when they come and congratulate ourselves and say thank to everyone involved."
He added 'I am pretty sure I am preaching to the choir' when he urged everyone to 'keep going' to get more concessions from National Grid.
Mrs Munt voiced concern about 'scarring of the flatter parts of the Somerset Levels' and challenged the National Grid to go away and look again at its technology.
She said: "I am not happy...I don't think it is good enough in my part of Somerset."
Mr Mercer introducing a video which set out the draft route which tried to 'avoid woodlands and houses and reduce the visual impact'.
He said: "We are here to listen to your views."
He assured those present it will be the Secretary of State who ultimately decides where the power line will be built.
Wraxall and Failand parish councillor and chartered engineer Chris Ambrose said: "An underground cable buried in a tunnel would cost about 75p per year on our domestic electricity bill."
Dr Fox said: "What many of us have complained about from the very beginning that an assumption has been made on our behalf that we wouldn't want to pay more for something better."
Mr Ambrose said that rural residents have a duty of care for the countryside for all people adding: "We need to be LAYBYs - looking after your back yard."
And he urged those at the meeting to 'make it clear we do not want overhead power lines – protect the countryside for now and future generations'.
Nailsea resident Pat Sims, of Causeway View, said: "If the line can go underground at Tickenham Ridge, why not at Nailsea Moor? I will be able to see it from my home and I want it to be underground."
Mr Miles, representing the residents living in 44 homes at Cadbury Camp Lane, said: "It may cost £16 million to put the 400kv line underground but that will be very cheap compared to the hassle you will get from us, legally or illegally.
"We will give you absolute hell and you will be better off looking at some alternatives."
Portbury Parish Council chairman Peter Cooke said: "National Grid did not listen to us – they have diverted the line away from Portishead to avoid the Portbury Wharf nature reserve.
"They have put it close up to our homes and we are absolutely livid as it has split the parish and we won't take this lying down.
"You have put wildlife before people."
National Grid need the power lines for when a new nuclear power station capable of generating up to 3,260MW of electricity at Hinkley Point C to be built by 2025.
Hinkley Point is identified as one of eight potential sites in the UK suitable for a new generation of nuclear power plants.