Pylons will 'destroy the Highland way of life', SSEN delegation is told
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Controversial plans for new high-voltage pylons will "destroy the Highland way of life" by industrialising the landscape, a public meeting in Caithness has heard.
Managers from SSEN Transmission were told that people will be discouraged from living in the area, with one local resident declaring: "What we desperately need in this area is repopulation, not depopulation."
A delegation from the transmission company attended Monday's meeting organised by Dunbeath/Berriedale Community Say NO to Pylons, a subgroup of Berriedale and Dunbeath Community Council.
About 70 members of the public turned out in Dunbeath village hall amid concerns over the impact of the proposed 400kV overhead line between Spittal in Caithness, Loch Buidhe in Sutherland and Beauly in Inverness-shire with substations at each location.
If it goes ahead there will be about 167km of new pylons. The average height of the towers will be 57 metres, with a maximum height of 65m, according to documents circulated by SSEN.
The company says it is part of a UK-wide programme of works required to meet renewable targets, claiming it will support thousands of skilled jobs.
A report in December set out proposed 1km-wide routes for the line.
After an initial presentation led by Greg Clarke, head of corporate affairs at SSEN Transmission, community council chairman Angus MacInnes invited questions from the floor.
A Berriedale resident wanted to know about the "costs and consequences" for the people of Berriedale and Dunbeath
He said: "I've looked all through your literature and it says very clearly what the economic considerations are, what the technical considerations are, what the environmental considerations are, but it never mentions a single thing about the human considerations of it.
"For those who are within that one-kilometre corridor at the moment, how many of them will be evicted from their land? How many will be evicted from their houses? How many people will be made homeless? How many people's way of life will be destroyed by these pylons?"
The man, who later asked not to be named, went on: "We live up here for a reason. We live up here because it's not industrialised.
"This will destroy the Highland way of life by industrialising it. It'll stop people coming up here in the first place.
"We already have a problem with depopulation. This will do nothing to solve it – in fact, if anything, it will drive people even more from this area."
Mr Clarke replied: "We're not planning to evict anybody from their home. For the overhead lines, we're looking to be as far away from people's homes as we possibly can."
On the 1km corridor, he said: "Once we have an alignment we'll try to develop that alignment in such a way that keeps it a suitable distance from people.
"We understand there are very legitimate concerns. This infrastructure is required if we're going to deliver the targets that our governments have set us in terms of meeting net-zero and delivering energy security.
"There will be jobs, there will be opportunities, there will be careers in terms of managing this infrastructure in the future. We'll be doing what we can to maximise those benefits and we'll be doing what we can to minimise the impact that you're concerned about."
The Berriedale resident persisted, saying: "Are people going to be evicted from their land and their property because of these pylons? Yes or no?"
Euan Smith, senior development project manager at SSEN, pointed out that there will be a 170m "setback distance" from residential properties throughout the route.
Mr Clarke went on: "The first thing we are trying to do is maintain a distance between individual properties and the overhead line of at least 170 metres. Nowhere along this route are we intending to run the overhead lines above people's properties because we understand that is a concern that some people have.
"We are aiming to maintain 170 metres of a distance. That will have an impact on land that people own, and if you are a landowner where we are looking to locate that infrastructure, and we cannot agree with you a voluntary wayleave, we have the ability under the Electricity Act to undertake what we call a necessary wayleave – a legal process which, if it's successful, allows us to locate the infrastructure on that person's land.
"What it doesn't do is allow us to have an impact on their individual property. We are not looking to move people out of their properties for the overhead lines but there might be landowners that we don't reach a voluntary agreement with – and, if that is the case, the power exists for us to undertake a legal process as an absolute last resort."
The same Berriedale resident was also worried about the impact on the A9 of construction traffic working on the scheme.
He said: "How are you going to build this stuff with one road, the A9? We know what it's like at the moment. What's it going to be like when you have all this big heavy machinery coming up?
"This is our only road that takes us to Raigmore. You're talking about people not only being inconvenienced but placing people at risk.
"The A9 will not be able to cope. It can't cope at the moment.
"There are other issues about housing blight. Who is going to want to come and live up here?
"The reason people come up here is to get away from an industrial landscape. Who is going to want to buy a house up here? And if people say 'I don't want to live here any more' they're not going to be able to sell their house. They're not going to be able to move.
"Nobody is going to want to build up here."
Mr Clarke explained that planning consent is "not a given" and that a detailed application will be submitted.
"We will have to agree with Highland Council and the main trunk road provider a traffic management plan for the construction phase of the project and it is likely that there will be some preconditions attached to our planning application whereby we might have to upgrade road networks if that's required," he said.
"When we're in the construction phase we'll do everything we can to minimise and mitigate the impact of our activities. We build infrastructure across the north of Scotland – we've been doing that for decades. We've got a pretty good track record but we recognise there will inevitably be impacts."
On house valuations, Mr Clarke said SSEN and ScottishPower were carrying out research based on the Beauly/Denny line "to give some sort of answer or reassurance to people who have that concern".
He added: "We don't have the details at the moment but that will certainly be available well in advance of us submitting our planning application."
Monday's public meeting was a follow-up to one held in September, when a speaker from Communities B4 Power Companies (CB4PC) warned that “nowhere in the Highlands will be safe from industrialisation” if the pylons are allowed to go ahead.