Removal of 4.6km of overhead power lines in North Wessex Downs AONB secures planning permission

Construction set to begin in the first quarter of 2024

A project to replace 4.6km of overhead electricity line and 13 pylons with underground cable is one step closer to being realised following an important decision by Wiltshire Council.

The project will enhance the landscape in the stretch of the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) to the north of Devizes, as part of National Grid’s Visual Impact Provision (VIP) project to reduce the visual impact of existing high voltage power lines in protected areas across England and Wales. The overhead line due to be removed runs east from the west of the Roundway Hill and Covet, just north of Roundway to a field just north of the Kennet & Avon Canal close to the Bridge Inn on Horton Road.

Since the project in Devizes first began in 2019, National Grid has been working to develop its proposals with local stakeholders, including North Wessex Downs AONB Partnership, Natural England, Wiltshire Council, Historic England, and the local town and parish councils.
The project team has also met and discussed the plans with a range of special interest groups especially those focusing on archaeology, ecology and countryside access. Earlier this year, members of the National Grid team led 18 enthusiastic ramblers in a walk over Roundway Hill taking in some of the pylons earmarked for removal as part of the North Wessex Downs Walking Festival.

The planning consent for the project’s infrastructure, which was awarded earlier this year, includes two sealing end compounds at either end of the line being removed, where the new underground cables come back up to join and connect with the overhead line. The project will require major engineering activity, with National Grid appointing Balfour Beatty as its main contractor to carry out the construction work.

Preliminary archaeology will begin at selected locations in the new year, with construction planned to start in the first quarter of 2024. Construction is due to be complete with all 13 pylons removed by the end of 2026.

As part of how it is regulated by Ofgem, National Grid Electricity Transmission has been given dedicated funding to pursue Visual Impact Provision projects to reduce the visual impact of its infrastructure in AONBs and national parks. North Wessex Downs is one of five National Grid VIP projects to take this positive step forward, with the projects in the Dorset AONB and Peak District National Park already completed.

Chris Carr, National Grid’s Senior Project Manager on the North Wessex Downs VIP project said: “Securing planning permission for the infrastructure that will enable our proposals to reduce the visual impact of a 4.6km section of overhead line across the Devizes countryside represents a major landmark in the project’s progress. We would like to thank Wiltshire Council and local stakeholders for the constructive advice given to us throughout the development process. From the outset our proposals have been very much shaped by stakeholders and we now have the positive outcome we had hoped for.”

Chris Baines, chair of the VIP project’s national independent Stakeholder Advisory Group said: “By working with a range of stakeholders at a national and local level, we have a major opportunity to preserve and enhance this landscape. Those familiar with this part of the North Wessex Downs AONB will be aware of the positive impact that removal of the pylons will have on the views across this wonderful place. I am delighted that following this important decision, we are one step closer to transforming this beautiful landscape.”

Ian Currie, Managing Director of Balfour Beatty Power Transmission & Distribution, said: “This latest contract award is a testament to our longstanding relationship with National Grid and our unrivalled expertise and experience in delivering complex energy projects. We look forward to bringing back the unhindered views in one of Britain’s most beautiful landscapes for walkers, visitors and the local community, whilst also ensuring the continued, secure supply of energy to homes and businesses.”