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Going underground... or at least they should be

PUBLISHED: 15:04 04 July 2013 | UPDATED: 18:19 10 July 2013

These things can change our landscapes forever

These things can change our landscapes forever

Archant

National Grid needs to hear your views on the giant pylons heading for east Kent

We were out filming for a new county TV channel when the problem, not for the first time, reared its all too ugly head.

Putting together some early footage to help get the project up and running, we were presenting profiles of the county’s many and varied districts, essentially, if we could, in a flattering light.

Hence we headed for Oare Marshes nature reserve on the south bank of The Swale, the perfect place, we reasoned, to meet our needs.

Or not.

“That’s the thing with Kent – wherever you are, there’s a load of pylons in the way,” said the film producer, his frustration evident as he turned the camera away from The Swale and the grotesque steel monsters marching parallel to it.

You can but wonder about a planning system that ends up with the desecration – for desecration it surely is – of a wonderful and once-treasured landscape such as this.

Perhaps, we tell ourselves, possibly in an attempt to find some kind of reason for such madness, things were different in those days… we have higher standards now. They wouldn’t be allowed there today, that’s for sure.

It’s not an idea I accept readily. As that film producer suggested, it’s difficult to find a view in Kent that does not feature at least one line of pylons (head up the A2 towards London and there’s a veritable jungle of the things).

I don’t have the figures – and it’s quite likely they don’t exist – but I would happily wager that Kent hosts more miles of pylons than any other county. It will certainly be up there towards the top of any notional league table.

There are several reasons for this. The county has large conurbations and towns of its own, of course, while its proximity to London is a factor, but more than anything it’s a function of the number of power plants that we host.

Nuclear power stations, coal-fired power stations, oil-fired power stations, gas-fired power stations, offshore wind farms, onshore wind farms, solar farms… you name them, Kent has them, lots of them.

Intrusive on our landscapes of themselves, their impact is spread further and wider by the pylons that carry their power to the region’s homes, towns, cities, shopping centres and so on.

And it’s important to stress here that it is the region’s needs that are being served by this towering sprawl of steel that dominates so much of our county. The region – that’s the whole south-east of England – and doubtless farther afield, for that matter, benefits from what happens here. They get the energy, we get the pylons… makes you feel good, doesn’t it!

And you’ll be getting to feel even better soon if the private company National Grid gets its way. National Grid plans to connect the nation’s electricity network to something called Nemo Link, an “electricity interconnector” between this country and Belgium that will allow electricity to flow in both directions between the UK and Europe. In other words, this is a project that benefits the nation.

All well and good, and the mere accident of our geographical location means this was something that was always going to be coming our way, the subsea cables tracking through Pegwell Bay and pitching up at a new converter station and substation on the site of the old Richborough power station.

Not something that’s going to enhance the image of the area, in truth, but it’s what we’re going to get and I guess we just have to accept it.

It’s the next stage where we get to have a say. To transport the electricity from Richborough to its high-voltage network, National Grid plans to build a line of giant pylons to Canterbury, a distance of some 12.5 miles.

Their height is likely to be about 165ft and their impact potentially devastating.

The crumb of comfort in all of this is that the good public of east Kent are being invited to have their say on which route the pylons of the Richborough Connection, as it is called, should take.

You can also give your opinion on the pylons’ design and whether they should, at least for some their journey, be placed underground.

A number of consultation events has been set up, one of which I attended in Ash at the weekend. It was professionally presented, I spoke to a very helpful gentleman and I’m glad that I went, even if I departed with much the same feeling with which I arrived – that the views of the public weren’t really going to change very much at all.

I have a strong idea of where and how these new pylons are going to go and look, and I’ll be very surprised if I’m wrong, but for all that I would still urge everyone in east Kent to visit one of the consultation events. If enough people make their case strongly enough, we just might win some mitigation.

My belief is that much of this new line should be placed underground. This is a national project for which yet again Kent will pick up the tab – and a strikingly ugly tab at that.

Shared around, however, the tab would be negligible. That helpful gentleman in Ash informed me that the National Grid element of your electricity bill amounts to just 4 per cent of the final sum. If all of this country’s 63 million people were to cover the cost of placing the Richborough Connection and indeed a limited number of other pylon lines underground, by my reckoning at least, annual bills would be increased by a matter of pence.

And if there are people for whom even those few pence would prove too great a burden, well, it can’t be beyond the wit of man to introduce a fair system whereby those more able can take up what would be a barely perceptible slack.

It is a price worth paying. Not only do excessive numbers of pylons make places look ugly, but they also make them look poor, nasty and cheap – the sort of attributes that help keep places poor, nasty and cheap.

It’s time we started putting these things underground, and while we’re at it some of those that have blighted our views for so long should also disappear from sight… and we can start back where we began this tale, by the banks of The Swale.

 To learn more about the Richborough Connection and where and when the remaining consultation events are being held, you can visit www.richboroughconnection.com.

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