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We are delighted that an inspector has refused permission for a utility company to place new electricity substations on conspicuous sites on the Chailey Commons in East Sussex.
UK Power Networks (UKPN) had applied to the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs for consent to place two substations on the commons—one near the junction of North Common Road with Beggars Wood Road, and one near the latter’s junction with the A275 at Bineham. UKPN said these substations were needed to upgrade the supply, and to discontinue an existing supply line where permission had been withdrawn. Both substations would have been close to the roads and prominent in the landscape.
Inspector Mark Yates held a hearing into the applications at Newick village hall on 6 June 2023. The society, with the Chailey Commons Society (CCS), appeared as objectors. The society said that the substations would be intrusive and ugly, and that UKPN had not tried very hard to find more suitable sites. The CCS presented expert opinion that the substations would have a harmful effect on biodiversity.
The inspector, in his decision letter, referred to ‘The lack of any significant benefits for the public arising from the proposed works’, the potential alternative options, ‘the adverse impact…on the landscape’, and the potential impact on nature conservation. Consent was refused.
Hugh Craddock, one of our case officers, said: ‘We were clear all along that these were conspicuous and inappropriate sites for the substations, and that UKPN should have and could have done better. Ever since mediaeval times, commons have been targeted as cheap and vulnerable sites for development: for example, new roads, railways, and utility infrastructure. But today, the Secretary of State’s policy is that commons should be protected against inappropriate development. UKPN failed to show the inspector why it had alighted on these particular locations when there were so many potential other options.’
Hugh added: ‘It also was apparent that the Bineham site was being upgraded sufficient to supply a substantial housing estate, whereas it was required only to service one dwelling. We suggest that the size of the proposed substation was completely out of proportion to the demands which would have been made of it based on present and foreseeable supply needs.’
Hugh concluded: ‘UKPN will now need to examine whether it can obtain off-common sites through negotiation or use of compulsory powers. And if either of the substations must be located on the commons, we expect it to work with stakeholders to identify a far less intrusive and damaging location.’