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Controversial new pylon line from Spittal to Beauly will bring hundreds of jobs, new homes and £32 million in community benefit, says SSEN Transmission

By Caroline McMorran

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A MAJOR infrastructure project to build a new high-voltage pylon line in the north Highlands will bring a range of benefits to the region, SSEN Transmission has claimed.

The power company says the controversial scheme which has sparked widespread opposition, will create hundreds of new jobs and new homes.

SSEN, which is responsible for the electricity network in the North of Scotland, also says communities across the north will benefit from more than £32 million of community benefit funding, with money saved on electricity bills for those living closest to the new infrastructure.

The benefits were outlined as SSEN announced today that reports have now been produced following the first round of consultation on its proposals.

The project to build a high-powered overhead electricity line between Spittal and Beauly has sparked controversy.
The project to build a high-powered overhead electricity line between Spittal and Beauly has sparked controversy.

The energy firm is seeking to build a new 400kV overhead line with ‘super pylons’ around 57 metres high, running around 100 miles from Spittal to Beauly. New sub-stations are also proposed at Spittal, Loch Buidhe and Beauly.

The new power line is seen as vital for transporting renewable energy generated in the Highlands to more populated areas of central Scotland and England. SSEN has said it is part of a UK-wide programme of works that are required to meet 2030 renewable targets.

SSEN unveiled its preferred options for the route of the line earlier this year and launched a consultation exercise, holding community engagement events in the affected areas.

The scale of the infrastructure and proposed route has caused widespread consternation, with campaigners deeply concerned about the negative impact the power line would have on beautiful landscapes and heritage sites.

Calls have been made for a public inquiry into the proposals.

The reports produced by SSEN following the first round of consultation summarise the extensive feedback received, how this has been taken into account and confirm which proposed routes and substation sites are now being taken forward to the next stage of development.

A link to the reports will be sent to all stakeholders who have expressed an interest.

SSEN have confirmed the following decisions:

In the northern section, between Spittal and Brora, where the proposed new overhead line passes Dunbeath, the more inland of the two potential routes consulted on will be taken forward, reducing impacts on Dunbeath and surrounding settlements.

As the overhead line passes Helmsdale, SSEN Transmission is taking forward two options to the route alignment stage, one that largely follows the coastline and an inland option.

In the area between Brora and Loch Buidhe, SSEN Transmission is progressing the overhead line route which seeks to minimise the impact on the surrounding settlements.

In the area around Bonar Bridge to the west of Dornoch, SSEN Transmission is progressing the overhead line route that it presented in its previous consultation. In recognition of concerns about the potential impact of this route on the village of Culrain and Carbisdale Castle, SSEN Transmission is seeking to minimise and mitigate impacts as it now develops this route alignment

As the proposed overhead line passes Contin and Strathpeffer, SSEN Transmission continues to assess an alternative route developed through consultation with local stakeholders, which will be taken forward to route alignment stage alongside the initial potential route that was consulted on earlier this year.

In the southern section, between Dingwall and Beauly, SSEN Transmission is progressing the overhead line route that was presented in its previous consultation which aims to minimise the impacts on the surrounding settlements.

All three substation locations, at Spittal, Loch Buidge and Beauly, will progress in line with the preferred options presented in the consultation.

A further round of public consultation on overhead line alignments and more detailed substation designs will take place in early 2024.

Euan Smith, senior development project manager, said: “We would once again like to thank all the stakeholders who took the time to respond constructively to our consultation, this extensive feedback has helped to inform the decisions on potential overhead line routes we are announcing today.

“The overhead line routes we are now taking forward to route alignment and our proposed substation locations seek to balance environmental and technical constraints while minimising the impact on communities.

“In some sections, including where the lines passes Contin and Strathpeffer and around Helmsdale, we are taking two route options forward to the alignment stage. We will carry out a full environmental and technical assessment, alongside further community engagement, to help inform which alignment we take forward.

“We are also setting out our initial rationalisation plans, which will involve the removal and undergrounding of existing infrastructure to help reduce cumulative visual impacts, with further schemes to be set out as part of our overhead line route alignment consultation in early 2024.

“We now look forward to further engagement with local communities and wider stakeholders ahead of our next round of public consultation in early 2024 and remain committed to working constructively with all stakeholders to help further inform the development of this vital national infrastructure.”

SSEN highlighted the draft guidance on community benefit for electricity transmission infrastructure, published alongside last week’s Autumn Statement which proposes £200,000 per km of community benefit and £200,000 per substation.

The company said: “Subject to the Government’s final decision and confirmation of the funding arrangements by the energy regulator Ofgem, the Spittal-Loch Buidhe-Beauly project is expected to deliver over £32 million of community benefit.

“Proposals for direct payments to those most affected by new electricity transmission infrastructure have also been set out by the UK Government, with further details expected in 2024.”

SSEN further stated: “To ensure that the development of these critical infrastructure projects has a positive impact on local people and places, SSEN is also announcing the first part of its accommodation strategy.

“This includes a commitment to contribute to the development of at least 200 properties across the North of Scotland, which following the completion of the transmission infrastructure projects, will be handed over to local organisations to provide accommodation for local people across the north of Scotland, creating a lasting legacy for future generations.

"This is expected to include new and renovated homes, as well as fully serviced sites for temporary worker accommodation, delivered to the standard required to support future housing and wider economic development activities.

"To inform its accommodation strategy, SSEN Transmission has commenced engagement with local authorities and wider stakeholders to help identify local housing needs in the project locations, including addressing the rural housing crisis."

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