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Controversial planning reforms proposed to fast-track pylon line through Suffolk countryside





A controversial scheme to run a new line of pylons and overhead cables through Suffolk could be fast-tracked through the planning system, in the face of local objections.

The Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (DESNZ) is said to be drawing up sweeping reforms, so that infrastructure can be built more quickly to help the country achieve its net zero targets.

The generation of power by wind farms off the Norfolk coast is a major part of that strategy, but National Grid says it needs to upgrade its on-shore pylon network to get electricity around the country.

It wants to build a 112-mile, 400kV line, supported by 45-50m high pylons, from Dunston, just south of Norwich, to Tilbury on the Thames Estuary, via the Suffolk countryside. Picture: Mark Bullimore Photography 2023
It wants to build a 112-mile, 400kV line, supported by 45-50m high pylons, from Dunston, just south of Norwich, to Tilbury on the Thames Estuary, via the Suffolk countryside. Picture: Mark Bullimore Photography 2023

It wants to build a 112-mile, 400kV line, supported by 45-50m high pylons, from Dunston, just south of Norwich, to Tilbury on the Thames Estuary, via the Suffolk countryside.

The scheme is opposed by local councils, MPs and campaigners, who say it will lead to the “annihilation of the countryside” and insist an offshore route should be considered.

National Grid says this would be too expensive and is pushing ahead with the pylon scheme and, earlier this month, it released a detailed map of the route, showing where it will pass through.

Ministers are understood to be increasingly concerned, however, about the speed at which the new infrastructure can be delivered.

They believe changes to the planning system will be needed to ensure the growing demand for energy from households and the expansion in wind power does not outpace the capacity of the grid.

John Pettigrew, chief executive of National Grid, said that it would be “incredibly challenging” to expand the existing network to meet the Government’s targets without major planning reforms.

These proposed reforms would be designed to allow the construction of additional overhead cables and pylons in as little as half of the current seven-year period that usually elapses before such projects receive formal consent.

However, the Essex Suffolk Norfolk Pylons action group, which is campaigning against the pylon proposals, branded this attempt to fast-track the process as “legally flawed”, and called for urgent intervention from energy regulator Ofgem.

The action group submitted a four-page legal opinion written by London-based solicitor Charles Banner KC, which stated that the latest plans failed to follow the Green Book – the Government framework for how such infrastructure projects should be evaluated.

Campaign spokeswoman Rosie Pearson said: “The Green Book rules are mandatory.

“We cannot understand why National Grid tells us it does not have to follow them, nor can we understand why Ofgem tells us they will not enforce the rules.

“The Green Book guidelines also provide a clear set of instructions for the evaluation of alternatives.

“Given that National Grid has steadfastly ignored the cheaper and better alternative of an integrated offshore grid, we would like to see them now instructed to do a proper job of things.

“The approach chosen by National Grid prefers pylons to any alternatives – and that’s not good enough. Neither is it lawful.”

Under the plans being considered by DESNZ, ministers would issue formal guidelines – known as a National Policy Statement – effectively mandating the government’s Planning Inspectorate to approve projects.

Mr Pettigrew said: “What that statement needs to do is be absolutely clear about the need for the energy-related infrastructure to recognise the critical urgency of extending the networks to support net zero.

“By doing that, then, if the Planning Inspectorate follows that policy, there’s less ambiguity and, therefore, less likelihood that it will be legally challenged.”