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REVOLT Powerline Concerns Health Hazards Need UK Energy Policy

Welbury

13/03/2000

Reports of National Grid's consultative/charm offensive meetings with various villages due to be disrupted by the building of the proposed line.

Public meeting at 8.00 p.m. on Monday 13th March 2000 in Welbury Village Hall
arranged by Welbury Parish Council.

Purpose:

To provide an opportunity for the public to question National Grid Company staff on issues connected with NGC’s proposed 400kV overhead transmission line from Picton to Shipton.

Summary:

The meeting was chaired by Mr. C. Barker, Chairman, Welbury Parish Council.

In attendance were, from NGC: Mr. S. Grant, public relations consultant, Mr. G. Bradbury, project manager, Mr. M. Hudson, wayleaves officer; from North Yorkshire County Council: Mr. G. Fell, solicitor, Mr. M. Roberts, divisional engineer, highways.

About 50 members of the public attended.

Mr. Grant, in a brief introduction, expressed his wish that the meeting should concern itself with matters relating to the eventual construction of the line, but he did say that he and his panel would attempt to answer any question put to them. He issued an information sheet containing very brief details of the works proposed in Welbury Parish. He also had 6 copies of a map showing the proposals for Welbury.

Prof. M. J. O’Carroll (REVOLT) issued copies of a note which clearly explained REVOLT’s contention that there is no need for reinforcement of the transmission system on the scale proposed by NGC.

Mr. Grant agreed to supply anyone attending the meeting with a copy of its minutes, as recorded by NGC. He would accomplish this by sending minutes to the Parish Council, from whom interested persons could obtain copies.

NGC’s presentation was described, from the floor as "appalling", and it failed to convince the audience. It was felt to be an empty and rather cynical gesture in the direction of public relations, without any great real meaning.

Issues raised:

1. Need for the line;

2. Undergrounding;

3. Vehicle movements and weights;

4. Access routes to towers (over highways, and temporary access over land),

construction methods and re-instatement of temporary access roads;

5. Use of public rights of way for access over land;

6. Crossing of NGC line and Northern Electric distribution lines;

7. Supervision of contractors and sub-contractors;

8. Unacceptable behaviour of contractors during survey/ site exploration work;

9. Working times, including possible curfew at school bus times, disruption to commuter traffic;

10. Consents for line not all agreed;

11. Damage to land in wet weather;

12. Use of heavy crane versus light weight derrick during tower construction;

13. Protection of services under highway;

14. Impact of line on:

environment, property values, health.

Public meeting in Welbury Village Hall, 8.00 p.m., 13th March 2000

Present:

Welbury Parish Council:

Mr. C. Barker (Chairman)

Mrs. M. Bennett

Mr. T. J. Holmes

Mr. R. G. Sharp

(apologies from Mr. P. Elsdon)

National Grid Company:

Mr. S. Grant (public relations consultant)

Mr. G. Bradbury (project manager)

Mr. M. Hudson (wayleaves officer)

North Yorkshire County Council:

Mr. M. Roberts (divisional engineer, highways)

Mr. G. Fell (solicitor)

Members of the public:

Approx. 50

Mr. Barker chaired the meeting.

1. Opening presentation;

Mr. Grant , in a short presentation, issued NGC’s information sheet which contained brief details of working days, hours of work and associated vehicle movements. Copies of a map showing vehicle routes was issued only to members of the Parish Council. Mr. Grant, while attempting to refer to the map to explain how access to the towers was to be gained, agreed that the map was inadequate for public display. (Later, during the meeting, he agreed to supply further copies of the map and copies of minutes taken by NGC to anyone interested via the Parish Council.). Mr. Grant expressed his wish that the meeting should concern itself with detailed matters relating to the eventual construction of the proposed line in the Parish of Welbury, but he also said that he and his panel would try to answer any questions put to them.

The meeting was then made open to the floor and the following issues were discussed.

2. Need for the line :

Prof. M. J. O’Carroll raised the issue of need for the line and distributed a note demonstrating a clear case for non-construction of the proposed line. Mr. Grant considered the line to be necessary in the public interest to promote competition among generators and to have the effect of reducing electricity costs for the consumer. Prof. O'Carrol rejected NGC's argument and showed that, on the contrary, the line would be anti competitive as it would exacerbate the already grossly distorted bulk electricity market. The meeting emphatically disagreed with Mr. Grant’s statement that, although visually unattractive, the benefits from the line to the public outweighed any possible objections to it. The meeting considered that the only beneficiary from the line would be NGC, by way of increased profit from wasteful and unnecessary long distance transmission of electricity. Data from NGC’s Seven Year Statement support this view.

The lack of a co-ordinated national energy policy was cited by Mr. Grant as supporting NGC’s case for the line.

3. Undergrounding:

Mr. Grant rejected calls for undergrounding the line, should it be found to be really necessary to build the line at all, on grounds of cost, lower reliability of underground cables compared with overhead lines and environmental impact. The meeting was not convinced by his environmental and reliability arguments. He claimed that construction costs for an underground line would be about 900 million more than for overhead, or about 12 times the cost of overhead cables, and that NGC shareholders would not bear any of this cost. It would all be passed on to the consumer. He failed to say how great a unit price rise for electricity this would represent. The contempt for these opinions was palpable.

4. Vehicle movements and weights:

Total vehicle movements of 1488 (NGC expressed this as 744 with a footnote to indicate that they mean double movements) is to be regarded as no more than NGC’s most recent best estimate. NGC has been pressed for accurate figures, but to no avail. The above figure is less than that included in the planning applications to HDC. However, it is, by orders of magnitude, greater than the figures given to Public Inquiries. For what it’s worth, it is NGC’s best possible estimate. The heaviest vehicle would be a 57 tonne crane. The works were scheduled over a four month period. Thus average vehicle movements per day should be about 15. But there would be "bunching" at beginning and end of the four month estimate for work to be completed. NGC considers this to be a trivial change from normal traffic flow. The accuracy of NGC’s latest statement on traffic movement, given the above information, being questionable, the company’s assertions were not given much credence..

(5). Access to towers:

(a). Routes allowed to all vehicles concerned over highways: The parts of the public highway to be used were indicated on the map. No route in the direction of the village of Welbury beyond the farm road to South View Farm is allowed to any vehicle involved with the contract. This includes cars of personnel visiting the works.

(b). Temporary access over land: Two temporary access points have been approved. They are of adequate size to accommodate the largest vehicle (57 tonne crane) turning and leaving the highway.

(c). Construction methods and re-instatement of temporary access roads: Two methods for making temporary access roads will be used: (i). Pre-fabricated removable aluminium track; (ii). Roadways laid with stone. The use of aluminium track is less disruptive, but more expensive than the use of stone.

One speaker from the floor claimed that greater use of aluminium should significantly reduce vehicle movements over the highway. NGC said stone roads stand up to heavy use better than aluminium. They intend to use stone for access to Green Lane (South View) as that involves access to a tower where heavy plant will be required for stringing conductors. One is left wondering how the heaviest vehicle, a 57 tonne crane, can traverse an aluminium track without causing problems to NGC.

(6). Use of public rights of way for access over land:

Low Moor Lane lies just outside the Parish of Welbury. It is a public bridle way and is also part of the long distance path known as The Coast to Coast Walk – a route of national importance. NGC intend to use this as a means of access to some of their pylons. Detailed discussion of this point did not take place due to its location outside the Parish, but Mr. Fell said that NGC would have to talk to NYCC.

The farm road to South View, to be used by NGC for access to three pylons is also a public right of way. It is a bridle path clearly within the parish boundary. When they made application for a temporary access from the road onto the farm road, NGC were asked (among others) two specific questions, viz.

"Are any access roads to the site crossed or shared with a Public Right of Way?

Are there any public Rights of Way (e.g. footpaths, bridleways) within the site?

The specific application dealt with only the few metres square bordering the road, but the correct answer to both questions is clearly "yes". NGC said "no". The application was approved with conditions. It remains to be seen what protection of the public right of way may devolve from the conditions. After leaving the highway, the temporary access road NGC wants continues for some considerable distance along the bridle way. We wait to see what provision NGC will make for the public to enjoy their right in a quiet and peaceful manner. NGC gave assurances that all disruption due to all works, including temporary access, would be properly re-instated to their former condition, according to a pre-planned programme.

(7). Crossing of proposed NGC line and existing Northern Electric distribution lines.

Where this occurs there are two options to ensure safe continuity of supply. The Northern Electric line may be undergrounded or it may be protected by scaffolding while the NGC line is being built. The point was raised but left without satisfactory answer.

(8). Supervision of contractors and sub-contractors:

The issue was raised from the floor by a local resident who was appalled by the inadequate presentation of NGC. Would NGC be able to effectively supervise its contractors and their sub-contractors and impose effective sanctions? NGC’s reply was simply that they had a code of practice for contractors which would ensure best practice at all times. The meeting refused to accept this without clarification. Clarification emerged in the manner of a reluctant wisdom tooth in the forceps of an exceedingly timid dentist. We learned that all NGC staff and contractors will be made aware of a code of practice. There will be sanctions on breach of the code. Supervision should consist of NGC checking contractors documentation.

The meeting could not accept that checking contractors’ paperwork constituted adequate supervision. Mr. Grant then said that, during the contract, all vehicles, from visiting staff cars to the heaviest crane would be clearly identified, including a freefone number, as being involved in the construction of the line. When informed that there were NGC staff and contractors currently operating from unmarked vehicles, he agreed that vehicles were not yet given identifying marks, as exploration work was not considered by NGC to be of sufficient importance to the public for them to need to identify the vehicles concerned. Further pressure gained the assurance that a member of staff of NGC would be present at all times on any site used by contractors to physically ensure that they obeyed the code of practice. Any breach should ensure disciplinary action, which could lead to withdrawal of contract. The above should also include all sub-contractors.

(9). Unacceptable behaviour of contractors during site survey/exploration work:

A contractor had transported a CPT (core sampling machine) vehicle over the public highway and onto land using a vehicle without proper insurance and powered illegally by agricultural diesel. The incident is well known locally and it resulted in a police caution, delivered by Inspector Broadley. Mr. Grant was asked if the contractor would be allowed to continue to work for NGC. The meeting was astonished to hear that Mr. Grant was not aware of the incident. Mr. Grant apologised on behalf of NGC and gave the meeting his assurance that the contractor would never more work for NGC.

(10). Working times/ disruption to traffic:

Noted that a six day working week envisaged. Encroachment on residents’ weekend peace by Saturday working was challenged. The reply was that it would be better to have weekend working so as to shorten the total time the contract would take.

Mr. Grant accepted that, even with curfews on contractors traffic and a traffic management scheme for the public, there would be noticeable disruption to local traffic flow. He offered a curfew on contractors at school bus times, but was unhelpful to commuters who may be unpredictably delayed. He considers the impact of contractors vehicles over four months to be a trivial addition to existing local traffic.

(11). Consents to line not all agreed:

The meeting noted that, the Secretary of State’s decision notwithstanding, all necessary consents have not been agreed, and it is unlikely that voluntary agreement will be universally achieved.

(12). Damage to land in wet weather:

A photograph was shown of waterlogged land deeply rutted by a CPT vehicle used by NGC and the meeting noted that a condition is placed upon NGC that it shall only work on land in dry conditions in order that unnecessary damage to land shall not occur Mr. Grant was asked if NGC intended to comply with this condition. Mr. Grant made an unsuccessful attempt to equivocate by stating that if "land protection" measures were applied, the work could proceed during wet conditions. He went on to claim that NGC would be on good ground if it caused ruts not exceeding ten inches. The meeting was assured that no part of Mr. Grant’s submission could be found in the Secretary of State’s conditions for consent.

(13). Use of heavy crane versus light weight derrick during tower construction.

It was noted that tower 18 is to be erected using a light weight derrick instead of a heavy crane. The use of a heavy crane for towers 14 to 17 was questioned. Mr. Grant said, in answer that derricks were now falling into disuse for, as he said, safety reasons. He conceded that their use was not prohibited on grounds of safety. Mr. Grant’s answer was greeted with derision.

(14). Protection of services under highway:

Mains services, including a water main exist under a road to be used by NGC for all its vehicles up to the heaviest crane. Assurances were sought that no services should be put in jeopardy as a result of NGC’s proposed activities. Acceptable assurances were not received.

(15). Impact of line on environment, property values, health:

NGC accepts there is an adverse visual impact due to their activities, but while expressing regret it insists that benefits outweigh local disadvantage.

NGC is utterly dismissive of any suggestion that property values will decline as a result of its activities.

NGC states that it relies on the National Radiological Protection Board (a Government funded agency) for advice on health related matters due to electrical and electromagnetic fields. NGC refuses to acknowledge the validity of well respected international research which make the necessity for more stringent safety rules imperative. A comment from the floor is the best summary of their argument: "This is the tobacco argument all over again".

After all the angry rejection of NGC’s arguments, Mr. Grant was insistent that great benefits would accrue to the nation from the proposed line. This meeting (in common with all similar meetings so far held) strongly disagreed.

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