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Keeping Britain beautiful: A day in the life of a major projects and protected wayleaves surveyor

Posted on 17 April 2014 05:04 PM by barre1s

In the Steven Spielberg film War Horse, the special effects guys had to take out one of our overhead electricity poles using computer generated images!

I feel lucky as I get to do it for real, in what must be one of the most satisfying jobs in the company: helping to remove overhead power lines in two of the country’s national parks, the South Downs, and Norfolk and Suffolk Broads.

It’s not just national parks though as we have seven, yes, seven areas of outstanding natural beauty (AONB) in our area. 

The crew for War Horse were filming at Cranleigh in Surrey during our initial project walk through assessment – one of the many projects that we have done across the South East over the last ten years.

French vineyard and farmhouse
The crew set it up to make deepest, darkest Surrey look like a French vineyard and farmhouse – if you know the film, it’s where the old farmer lives with his orphaned granddaughter, Emilie. 

That’s when they had to computed generate a electricity pole out and put trees up to hide it.

As a major projects and protected wayleaves surveyor, I’m always out and about working on projects to remove these electricity poles and putting the cables underground in their place.

This is part of an Ofgem and Government supported national scheme, which we are responsible for in the South East.

Two schemes - favourites of mine - that you might have noticed if you live nearby or are out and about on a weekend are at Shotley in Suffolk and Birling Gap, Sussex. You can find out more about the Shotley project by watching our short video.

The Suffolk scheme saw the removal of 3km of 11kv overhead lines and its 9m-11m wooden poles on the beautiful Shotley peninsula, between the River Stour and the River Orwell, to be replaced with underground cables.

The same type of poles and power line disappeared on the road that runs along the cliff top at Birling Gap, up to Beachy Head, one of the longest stretches of undeveloped coastline on the south.

Another great scheme to work on was at Leith Hill, the former home near Dorking, Surrey, of Ralph Vaughan-Williams, the composer of the Lark Ascending.

We started work on these kind of projects in 2005, which run in five-year allowances. We did 26 schemes in the first five years. We will have done about another 20 when the second allowance runs out in 2015, by when £12.2m will have been invested in our service area.

Democracy at work
We're already starting to identify schemes for 2015-20, a process that requires a lot of liaison between the major stakeholders and our property, consent, distribution and delivery departments.

The process of identifying a scheme is quite democratic – a lot of ideas come through from the local community, such as parish councils, MPs, and other local organisations.

My role initially is to look at the scheme and see if it is feasible in electrical and engineering terms.  If it looks feasible, we do a budget assessment and take it to the AONB or National Park board and to a steering group chaired by Natural England, who also assess the scheme.

If all of the stakeholders agree that the scheme is viable and appropriate, I then work on the public consultation, discussing with farmers and property owners to see if they support the project or not.

It’s also important to discuss on the ground with representatives from National Parks and AONB.

Poles descending
The job is incredibly rewarding, and seeing the overhead lines being taken away has an instant impact that I, and everyone familiar with the site, can appreciate.

It just seems to open up the landscape and we're all able to see it the way it was and as nature intended.

Something that Vaughan-Williams would surely have appreciated.

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