CAMPAIGNERS opposing plans to bury power lines at a New Forest beauty spot are calling on the National Grid to reconsider the possibility of using underground tunnelling.
The proposals would see eight pylons removed and electricity cables run underground across Hale Purlieu, a Site of Special Scientific Interest near Fordingbridge.
However, Hale Parish Council is now asking National Grid to look again at tunnelling rather than digging trenches which could involve construction work up to 140m wide in some places.
Speaking at a recent Verderers’ Court meeting, parish council chairman Cllr Gaby Lucas said: “Hale Purlieu is a very special and protected SSSI and Ramsar site.
“When the site was first considered in 2015, an option to tunnel the cables under Hale Purlieu was briefly considered and dismissed, seemingly solely for reasons of cost.
“However, the route for trenching has changed and is now 20% longer than the original route, which could still be tunnelled.”
Cllr Lucas told the verderers that any future maintenance and cable replacement could be completed within the tunnel network, reducing the risk of further disturbance and excavation of Hale Purlieu. “Also, because the tunnels are so deep any effects on the surface from heat dissipation are negated,” she said.
Cllr Lucas went on to claim that National Grid was currently out to tender on four other tunnelling sites in the UK covering a total 40km. The path across Hale Purlieu is 2-3 km long.
She said: “The current proposal is to dig trenches and install fences across Hale Purlieu, amounting to some 25 hectares or 60 acres of lost grazing over a period of at least two years.
“Commoners are very concerned about the welfare and safety of their livestock. There would also be disturbance to wildlife habitats, nest sites and hydrology of the area, and the loss of trees and bushes. On top of this, the disturbance and disruption to residents will be daily and will last for at least two years.”
Cllr Lucas concluded by asking the verderers to support their request to the National Grid.
As previously reported in the A&T, the project has also been met with opposition from some residents who fear the potential ecological impact on the sensitive habitats on the Purlieu.
Speaking at the court, Peter Gear of the Protect Hale Purlieu Movement revealed the campaign group had now secured the support of the RSPB in opposing the current trenching proposals.
He said: “After representations, RSPB has sent a letter to National Grid giving detail about the extensive damage that will be caused to the habitat for birds during construction and beyond.
“Concerns raised include the restoration process, the effect of using concrete in the construction, the heat generated by the cables and the life span of the cables.”
Mr Gear continued: “We now have one major organisation bold enough to come out against the undergrounding of the cables on the Purlieu. I hope that the verderers will follow suit and similarly reject National Grid’s plans.”