A controversial scheme to run a new line of pylons and overhead cables through the Norfolk countryside could be fast-tracked through the planning system in the face of local objections.

The Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (DESNZ) is said to be drawing up sweeping reforms so that infrastructure can be built more quickly to help the country achieve its net zero targets.

The generation of power by wind farms off the Norfolk coast is a major part of that strategy, but National Grid says it needs to upgrade its onshore pylon network, to get electricity around the country.

It wants to build a 112-mile, 400kV line, supported by 45-50m high pylons, from Dunston, just south of Norwich, to Tilbury, on the Thames Estuary.

Diss Mercury: The full National Grid map (Image: National Grid)The full National Grid map (Image: National Grid) (Image: National Grid)

The scheme is opposed by local councils, MPs and campaigners, who say it will lead to the "annihilation of the countryside" and insist an offshore route should be considered.

National Grid says this would be too expensive and is pushing ahead with the pylon scheme. Last week, it released a detailed map of the route, showing the villages it will pass.

Ministers are said to be increasingly concerned, however, about the speed at which the new infrastructure can be delivered.

They believe changes to the planning system will be needed, to ensure the growing demand for energy from households - as more switch to electric cars and heat pumps - and the massive expansion in wind power does not outpace the capacity of the grid.

John Pettigrew, chief executive of National Grid, said recently it would be “incredibly challenging” to expand the existing network to meet the government’s targets without major planning reforms.

DESNZ, run by Grant Shapps, the energy security secretary, is said to be supportive of detailed plans submitted by National Grid for radical planning reform.

It would be designed to allow the construction of additional overhead cables and pylons in as little as half of the current seven-year period that usually elapses before such projects receive formal consent.

But the proposals are facing resistance among local Conservative politicians along the Norfolk pylon route.

South Norfolk MP Richard Bacon said he has met with National Grid and was “extremely concerned” with the approach it was taking. 

“I don't think they are yet listening to us properly. But if they think this is going away as a problem they are mistaken," he added.

Diss Mercury: Richard Bacon, the MP for South NorfolkRichard Bacon, the MP for South Norfolk (Image: UK Parliament)

John Fuller, the leader of South Norfolk Council, who is also opposed to the scheme, said: “Time pressure is something National Grid has gone on and on about and I have said to them they are trying to take shortcuts. 

“Consultations should be about choice, so the public can make informed decisions about what's ahead of us. 

“Why can’t it go offshore? I accept that they have reasons but it needs to be consulted on and I don’t believe it has been proven.”

He argued that if offshore is too expensive, then the company has also failed to show why sections cannot go underground, particularly in sensitive areas like Wortham Ling and Roydon Fen, which have special protections in place for wildlife and landscape. 

A section will go underground around Dedham Vale on the Essex-Suffolk border. 

Diss Mercury: John FullerJohn Fuller (Image: � Rose Sapey)

He added: “It is premature. They are rushing and not making the case. They need to bring the public with them.”

Instead, Mr Fuller argues the company should be extending a consultation until after the summer, to give parish councils, which have already broken up for the summer, a chance to have their say. 

Under the plans being considered by DESNZ, ministers would issue formal guidelines – known as a National Policy Statement – effectively mandating the government’s Planning Inspectorate to approve projects. 

Mr Pettigrew told the Telegraph: “What that statement needs to do is be absolutely clear about the need and the pace and urgency of the energy-related infrastructure that is needed, to recognise the critical urgency of extending the networks to support net zero. 

“By doing that, then, if the Planning Inspectorate follows that policy, then there’s less ambiguity and therefore less likelihood that it will be legally challenged, which quite often happens in these processes.” 

Diss Mercury: The plan for new pylons cutting across the Norfolk countryside has been controversialThe plan for new pylons cutting across the Norfolk countryside has been controversial (Image: Archant)

One area Mr Pettigrew argued could be sped up is the Development Consent Order process – where an inspector makes a final decision - which currently takes around 18 months.  

He believes three to six months could be shaved off. 

Currently, the UK generates up to 14GW of energy from offshore wind farms. The government’s net zero plan includes raising that capacity to 50GW by 2030.

According to Mr Pettigrew, by 2035, when the sale of petrol and diesel cars will be outlawed in favour of electric alternatives, the grid “is going to need to meet a demand that is 50pc higher than it is today”.




Despite DESNZ’s apparent support for speeding up pylon approval, not everyone in government is behind the scheme. 

Therese Coffey, the environment secretary and MP for Suffolk Coastal, submitted a petition to parliament to review all onshore energy connections. 

She gathered more than 3,800 signatures to request a study into the environmental impact of the plans. 

Instead, she has pushed for offshore routes, a plan that National Grid insists would be too expensive. 

A consultation on the Norfolk pylon route runs until August 21. 

Full statutory consultation over the final planning proposals will be held in 2024. If given the go-ahead construction is planned to start in 2027 with the new connection becoming operational early in 2031.