Scotland politics

Ministers reject Beauly Denny powerline calls

Calls to build a stretch of the controversial new Beauly to Denny power line underground have been rejected by the Scottish government.

Energy Minister Fergus Ewing instead passed plans to reduce the visual impact of the line of 50 metre-high pylons in the Stirling area.

He said existing line would be buried between Fallin and Glenbervie.

Ministers approved the 600-pylon network, to connect renewable power to the national grid, in January 2010.

Opponents of the Beauly to Denny line in and around Stirling say it will have a catastrophic impact on one of Scotland's most famous landscapes.

The 137-mile upgraded line, being constructed by Scottish Power Transmission (SPT) and running from the Highlands to central Scotland, will pass close to Stirling Castle and the Wallace Monument.

But Mr Ewing told the Scottish Parliament that putting the line underground was not feasible, while saying additional mitigation measures would be introduced.

The minister said he was convinced by SPT proposals to help mitigate the impact of the line through landscaping and others measures, and a new "green network".

He also announced that an extra seven kilometre stretch of the existing overhead line, between Fallin to Glenbervie, would be buried.

Mr Ewing said: "The Beauly-Denny upgrade remains the most significant grid infrastructure project in a generation.

"It is crucial to allow the vast onshore and offshore renewables potential in the north of Scotland to be harnessed, transmitted and exported."

The minister said he was "acutely conscious" of the feelings of the communities in the Stirling area, but told MSPs: "Undergrounding on such a large scale would cost an estimated £263m and require large sealing end compounds at the points where the line is undergrounded, which would have a significant landscape impact in their own right.

"According to the report of the public inquiry and external consultants, the impacts of the consented line at Stirling are moderate so I have concluded that due to the costs, technical problems and limited environmental benefits, the case for undergrounding has not been justified."

Tory MSP Murdo Fraser said the additional mitigation measures amounted to very little, adding: "These proposals faced widespread and united public opposition in the Stirling area."

Labour infrastructure spokeswoman Rhoda Grant said there was "no material difference" to the original decision to give the line consent, adding: "Many communities and campaigners will be angry they were given false hope.

The Liberal Democrats' Liam McArthur asked whether "false expectations" that significant undergrounding was ever likely had been unfairly raised in the affected communities.

He said: "There will now be a strong suspicion, notably in the Stirling area, that the delay in coming forward with this clear statement had more to do with the timing of last May's election than any uncertainty over the costs or indeed viability of significant undergrounding".

SNP-led Stirling Council said it was "extremely disappointed" at the Scottish government's decision, as the current plans had been "unanimously rejected" by local communities.

Callum Campbell, chairman of the Council's power line steering group, said: "Localised tower painting and some screen planting will not detract from the presence of 60m high pylons crossing a relatively flat landscape, and the power line will have a significant impact on the Wallace Monument and the Ochils Area of Great Landscape Value.

"The increase in high-voltage overhead power lines to the south of Plean, where there are already twin-power lines passing close to the community, is very concerning and wholly unacceptable in terms of visual intrusion and health reasons."

He added that the energy minister had "totally ignored" the views of local people.

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