A land despoiled by pylons

There are many practical advantages to government by panic, as our politicians have recently discovered. Fear is an excellent way to cut through awkward questions. In a pessimistic, timorous world, emotion beats reason into a cocked hat.

Right now, government by panic is propelling a series of appalling planning decisions in the name of energy distribution. Like Chicken Licken squawking that the sky is falling, ministers have taken to declaring that ” the lights will go out” unless the inevitable ” tough decisions” are made. Invariably, those decision involve the sacrifice of unspoilt countryside and affect the lives of those who live well away from the town-dwelling decision-makers.

The price for these on-the-hoof policies will be paid by future generations, and those that care about the natural world and what it brings to humans will curse us for the lasting harm that they will have caused. The Scottish government, having allowed Donald Trump to destroy a significant part of the east coast to make one of the world’s largest golf complexes, has confirmed its reputation for environmental vandalism by agreeing to the construction of 600 giant pylons, stretching 137 miles through the Highlands.

Power pylons destroy landscape. When planning committees discuss whether a stretch of countryside should be developed or industrialised, its first question is whether the landscape is already cluttered. Cluttered countryside is deemed already half-desecrated, and therefore less valuable, more amenable to further development.

In other words, the march of pylons across Britain is not simply scarring the countryside. It is opening the door to further development and destruction.

There are luckless communities across the United Kingdom, facing a similar threat to those in the Highlands. The National Grid is, mind-bogglingly, proposing a 23-mile stretch of pylons along the Stour Valley, littering the lovely countryside of south Suffolk. In north Somerset, another line of pylons will soon, if the National Grid has its way, be installed across the Mendips.

What is nationally shaming about these proposals is that the destruction is being done in the name of profit. Pylons are an outmoded form of power distribution. The technology for underground cabling is well developed and is widely used by more enlightened governments across Europe.

The reason for not putting the cables out of sight is that the process is would be more expensive. At this point, it is perhaps worth remembering that the National Grid is a private company which, in November, announced a 16% increase in its half-yearly pre-tax profits, taking them to a distinctly healthy £649m. “Noting the changing environmental landscape, management is poised to exploit opportunities arising from renewables transmission and new nuclear power stations,” the Investors Chronicle reported.

Has there ever been a time when the political and business establishment has been so relaxed about putting profit before the British landscape and the quality of life which it brings to humans who live there or visit? A profound, dispiriting apathy towards our precious and rapidly dwindling natural heritage is being revealed.

Independent, Friday, 5 February 2010