As more development is being carried out on Greenfield sites on the peripheries of urban centres, electricity lines are encountered frequently by developers. Stuart Hastings, Associate at Gateley Hamer considers the implications of diverting high voltage electricity lines when parts of the diversion route are overhead.

When a developer or land owner considers seeking the diversion of an overhead electricity line, their preference is generally for the line to be undergrounded, out of sight.  However, electricity companies have a duty to seek the most economic solution to a diversion and, in the majority of cases, an overhead solution is considerably cheaper.

Where an overhead diversion is being contemplated, developers and land owners should consider the length of time the process will involve, and ensure it is factored into their delivery programme.

In the majority of cases, an overhead diversion will require consent from the Secretary of State, obtained via an application under Section 37 of the Electricity Act 1989.

Where such consent is required, the electricity company will make an application to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (DBEIS), but as part of any application, the relevant Local Authority must also be consulted.

Once consultation has taken place, DBEIS will then consider the application and they may request that surveys such as environmental assessments are carried out. If objections are made by the Local Authority or on behalf of a statutory body, a public inquiry must be held unless the objection is withdrawn, or DBEIS is satisfied that it can grant consent subject to conditions that deal with the objection. DBEIS may also request an inquiry if it deems it appropriate.

The whole process of obtaining consent for a replacement overhead line can take considerable time especially when further surveys are requested or a public inquiry is deemed necessary. The time DBEIS takes to determine an application may also vary, depending on how many applications they are dealing with at that particular time.

All of this could significantly delay a diversion which may already be threatened by the availability of outages, which are typically only granted between April and October.

With all of this in mind, it is essential that developers consider from the outset whether an overhead solution could cause a delay to their project, and as always, our advice is to act early to be informed, minimise programme risks and to be on the front foot in negotiations.

If you have concerns about diversions affecting the deliverability of one of your projects, please do not hesitate to contact one of our experts.

This post was edited by Stuart Hastings.