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Putting pylons into place: a UK case study of public perspectives on the impacts of high voltage overhead transmission lines

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The siting of high voltage overhead transmission lines (HVOTLs) is often subject to public opposition where affected communities seek to protect local places. This study explores the perspectives of local citizens affected by a proposed HVOTL to connect new nuclear power at Hinkley Point in Southwest England. A two-day public workshop was held with 38 participants in an affected line-site community, using deliberative focus group methods to explore perceptions of environmental and social impacts, risks, governance arrangements and technology choices. The findings show how potential health effects from electric and magnetic fields (EMF) and visual impacts are perceived to industrialise rural places, disrupt place attachments and provoke local opposition. The findings challenge the ‘not-in-my-back-yard’ assumption that citizens are selfish place-protectionists that lack the technical sophistication necessary to take a strategic viewpoint on transmission system development. They also reveal how decision making under the former UK Infrastructure Planning Commission's (IPC) (and its successor body the Planning Inspectorate) presents a challenge to procedural justice, as front-loaded developer-led consultation practices curtail citizen input to key decisions on alternative technologies (for example, underground or undersea lines). This is likely to exacerbate public mistrust of transmission system operators and provoke further organised protest.
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Keywords: Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC); high voltage overhead transmission lines (HVOTL); infrastructure siting; not-in-my-back-yard (NIMBY); public consultation

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds, Leeds, LS2 9 JT, UK 2: College of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Exeter, Amory Building, Rennes Drive Exeter, EX4 4RJ, UK

Publication date: October 1, 2013

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