Agenda item

National Grid's Visual Impact Provision project in the Cotswolds National Landscape

To receive a report on National Grid’s Visual Impact Provision project in the Cotswolds National Landscape

Minutes:

6.1 Robbie Griggs, Mohammed Farooq and Stuart Fox, National Grid, gave a presentation on the National Grid Visual Impact Provision project. They outlined that the Cotswolds area of Natural Beauty had significant lengths of National Grid overhead lines and a 7km route comprising of 20 pylons had been identified for replacement with underground cables. The project was in its early stages. Engineers were looking at front-end designs and construction access points, while stakeholder meetings and community engagement events were being held. Construction was planned to start from 2025/26. The topography, potential for archaeological findings and the need to avoid disruption in the local area, in particular for walkers, represented key challenges. It was explained that as part of the project, a Community Grant Programme would provide grants of up to £20,000 for projects that would provide a community benefit. It was also explained that local suppliers and expertise would be used where possible.

6.2 In response to a question about the depth and signage for the underground cabling, it was explained that the cables would be about 1.5 metres underground, potentially in a ducted system which had several layers of protection from the cables to the surface. There would also be warning tape underground and small markers on boundaries and crossings to indicate that there was underground cabling. Landowners would also be made fully aware of the location of the cables.

6.3 A member asked for more detail about the reinstatement of the land after construction. It was explained that it would be done in conjunction with the landowner’s wishes. In previous projects, crops have been growing on the land within a year and they aimed for a minimum of 10% biodiversity net gain at the end of the project. In a previous project in the Peak District, they had achieved an 18% biodiversity net gain.

6.4 There was concern raised by members and officers over the extent of the construction and its impact on the environment. It was explained that the temporary haul road put in place would use techniques that reduced the amount of stone used. The road was there to avoid construction vehicles putting strain on public roads as large volumes of material would need to be transported as part of the project.

6.5 It was noted that the County Council and District Councils were on the stakeholder reference group, but officers were not able to give full details of who represented them at meetings with the National Grid team.

ACTION – Stuart Fox and Simon Excell to discuss District and County Council co-ordination with the National Grid project team.

6.6 A member asked about the cost of the project and about where the funding came from. It was explained that a detailed costing had not yet been completed but there had been a project in Dorset on a slightly longer line of cable that had cost around £116 million. The officers explained that there was £465 million set aside by Ofgem for these types of project as part of regulatory arrangements with National Grid across England and Wales and that this pot was ring-fenced specifically for visual landscape improvement in Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and national Parks. The fund is also available for National Grid’s equivalents in Scotland. There were separate efforts on improving grid capacity but the money that went towards this project would not take away from the those. Ultimately, the money that went towards this or other visual improvement projects came from the National Grid element on electricity bills. This amounted to around £20 per year per household and covered all National Grid’s activities in developing, maintaining and operating the transmission network in England and Wales and the money for projects like these represented a fraction of that total amount. In total, in the region of £1 billion had been allocated to these projects since 2013. Customer willingness to pay surveys were carried out throughout projects to assess whether consumers still wanted money to be spent on this. To date, the outcome of the research had been consistently positive.

6.7 Several members raised concern around grid capacity citing it as a barrier to new businesses and to electrification. The team explained they were committed to sustainable targets and to improving system capacity and they could come back at a future date to the Committee to discuss that further. It was also explained that the underground cables had the same capacity as the 400kV overhead cables and that grid capacity issues usually came from smaller 132kV cables. Efforts would be made to future proof these new cables and future proofing of the project would be scrutinised by Ofgem.

ACTION – DSU to add National Grid Capacity to the Forward Plan

6.7 A question was raised about the topsoil underneath the haul road. It was explained that the topsoil would be removed and then labelled and stored correctly so it could be replaced in exactly the same location at the end of the project.

6.8 It was asked whether there were further benefits to grid capacity or reliability from the project and whether there were plans to do this more widely across the County. It was explained that it would not make a significant impact to grid performance but that the projects would bring benefit to the local area. It was also explained that the entire length of cabling within the UK had been evaluated but it would take a long time to do it all. Therefore, the areas that needed it most were being targeted first. In 2026 the regulator and stakeholders would evaluate whether continuing visual improvement projects was a sensible use of bill payers’ money.

6.9 In response to a question about landowner issues, it was explained that the landowner response so far had been very encouraging. There were specific negotiations that would take time such as purchasing land or compensation for lost income at the farms that were disrupted.

6.10 In response to a question about the social value of the project, the National Grid team highlighted that they did focus on upskilling local workers and working with local schools to promote STEM subjects. It was suggested that the team collaborate with Pete Carr, Head of Employment and Skills, to collaborate with ongoing projects in the County like the Skills Hub.

ACTION – National Grid Team to collaborate with Pete Carr for local upskilling projects.

6.11 A member asked if the team were aware of highways issues on the A40 by the project site. It was explained that there were working with the Highways team.

 

 

Supporting documents: