This week I was invited to attend a community liaison meeting for one of the largest civil engineering projects this town has seen for many years. The Visual Impact Provision (VIP) project in the North Wessex Downs National Grid forms part of a national scheme to remove unsightly overhead pylons from some of the country’s most protected areas of outstanding natural beauty. An area from just east of Rowde by the Rickpiece Plantation moving east to the A361, then southeast to Horton Bridge ending by the Bridge Inn public house has been chosen for this work.
The plan is to replace 4.6km of overhead electricity line by placing and upgrading our local power lines with new underground cables, rather than have them traverse the North Wessex Downs National Landscape and then finally remove 13 pylons. This is a major engineering project and will transform the skyline in Devizes, including the spectacular views from the Millennium White Horse. For many people, the most well-known pylon to be removed is the one immediately adjacent the road leading to the top of Roundway Hill, and if like me, you have ever walked up there on a misty morning, you will have heard it buzzing to remind you just how much power is going along it.
Whilst the project has been in planning for almost 10 years, work on the ground is about to start, with construction being fully underway by May of this year and by April 2026 it is hoped that the Pylons will start to be removed and the most important part of the project will be underway to restore the landscape as it was before the pylons were ever placed there. Many questions were asked about how the landscape is to be restored and it is quite clear that organisations such as Natural England, CPRE and the North Wessex Downs National Landscape insisted on detailed reinstatement plans which were shared at the meeting.
There should be no misunderstanding about the scale of this work, and as you would expect, concerns about traffic management and how the work will impact our community were asked. The site compound for the project will be located in the Hopton Industrial area and from there all materials, including the massive cable rolls will go directly to the site via a specially constructed haul road that will ensure minimum use of our local highway infrastructure. It was also noted that the cable trench will need to cross the A361 at the highest point on the dual carriageway, just north of the Hopton Estate. This was a point of concern and much discussion, but it was explained that by using a method known as Horizontal Directional Drilling at key infrastructure points, disruption will be kept to an absolute minimum as the cables will be pulled under the road without digging it up.
Whilst the project is bound to cause some local disruption and the National Grid does recognise that. Local groups and charities will be able to apply for community funding during the duration of the work, which will be administered by the Local Giving Foundation, so keep an eye out for more information.
This musing only scratched the surface of the project, so if you would like to know more visit the National Grid website where you will be able to see images of what the landscape will look like after the work has been completed.
Town Clerk, Simon Fisher