High voltage National Grid pylons could 'criminally' damage historic Essex site, campaigners claim

Remnants of a 5,000-year-old settlement in Chelmsford could be “criminally” damaged if a planned route for new high voltage power lines between Norwich and Tilbury is not changed, campaigners have said. National Grid is seeking to run the new power line to the west of Chelmsford through a pinch point some 250m wide between Little Waltham and Great Waltham.

Of particular concern to campaigners is the damage they say will be caused to the Scheduled Monument known as Ash Tree Corner, a Neolithic settlement that has been dated to as early as 3,170BC - as old as Stonhenge.

However, they add that current schematics - which show the monument as a triangle - does not reflect the actual size. In fact, only part of the settlement was excavated when it was discovered during construction of the Waltham bypass in the early 1970s.

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An archaeological dig - confined to the foot print of the road - revealed early Neolithic, early and late Iron Age, Roman and early and late Medieval settlements. Carbon dating of pottery from the site showed settlement there was present over 5000 years ago, making it one of the earliest such sites in England.

Although the archaeological excavations were limited to the extent of the bypass it was clear that the Ash Tree site was much more extensive than this. Archaeologists involved in the dig said that the settlements were likely to have extended some 500m from the point where the bypass crossed the River Chelmer.

Campaigners say this means that not only will the current proposed electricity line pass directly over the protected site, but one of the proposed 50m pylons will be constructed actually on top of the site.

John Burrows claims that under the 1979 Act this could constitute a criminal offence and breaches National Policy Statement for energy EN-1 and EN-5. He added: "There is very likely settlement right across the gap between the two conservation areas - 500 metres extends that far and further.

"The map National Grid are using is wrong because it limits the scheduled monument to a rather small triangle. In fact in all probability it goes right across the gap. That means they are running the pylons right across the scheduled monument - worse they are planning to construct a pylon on top of the scheduled monument.

"Firstly it is a criminal office to damage let alone destroy a scheduled monument. But it also breaches a number of their policy documents. It could be a bit of a game-changer. It has the potential to be quite important.”

National Grid planners have set out an alternative western route through open farmland well to the north and west of the Waltham villages. They note the alternative route would “reduce potential heritage effects” and “reduce residential effects” in the two villages in comparison to the damage which would be caused by the existing proposed line of pylons running between the two villages.

But the parish council has said undergrounding would avoid these effects
altogether - it says if undergrounding is adopted, the line of the trench should be to the west side of the Waltham pinch point, possibly adjacent to or overlapping the eastern edge of Langley Park, so as to avoid the Ash Tree
Corner site.

The parish council in its submission says an offshore route is the first preference, undergrounding is the second, the alternative route is the third and the relocation of the three pylons using alternative positions and shorter repositioned pylons is the fourth.

It adds: "In conclusion we maintain that the current proposed pylon line so near to Little Waltham would mean the destruction of the village environment, and the destruction of the scheduled monument at Ash Tree Corner.

"The National Grid claims their proposals are consistent with the NPS EN1 and 5. But these catastrophic proposals will badly breach both those important policy documents."

A spokesman for National Grid said: “This information has been provided to us as part of our public consultation and is being assessed by our archaeology specialists and the project team. It will be carefully considered as we develop our proposals in the area.

“Feedback is important to us, and we are currently holding a statutory consultation on our draft proposals. We have extended the deadline until 23.59 on 26 July to give people even more time to send us comments after the General Election. To find out more, please see our project website nationalgrid.com/norwich-to-tilbury.

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