Academic research in EIA practice

9th June 2016

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  • Generation ,
  • Nuclear ,
  • Business & Industry ,
  • Built environment



Catherine Queen, principal environmental planner at TEP, describes how the consultancy used academic research as part of evidence to support the planning application for the grid connection for Hinkley Point C nuclear power station.

The world of academia is arguably more outward looking at present than at any time in the past. This is partly due to an increased emphasis on the impact of research, defined by the Research Excellence Framework and the Research Councils UK as 'the demonstrable contribution that excellent research makes to society and the economy'.

The key word in this definition is ‘demonstrable’ suggesting that it is simply not enough to focus on activities and outputs such as staging a conference or publishing a report. Modern academics are required to provide evidence of research impact and to show that it has been taken up and used by policymakers and practitioners. According to the Economic and Social Research Council, academic research can make a contribution to a range of significant advances including ‘understanding.

TEP’s recent experience in Somerset highlights how this academic understanding helped to inform a report on the use and colour of the T-pylon. TEP led the environmental impact assessment of the Hinkley Point C Connection project which was accepted for examination as a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project by the Planning Inspectorate in 2015.

The electricity connection project is expected to be one of the first to use the T-pylon design, the winner of a competition run by architectural institute RIBA competition in 2011, on a new overhead line in the UK. Our landscape and visual specialists considered recent research findings as part of the preparation of written evidence submitted to the examination. Specific reference was made to recent research into pylon design and public acceptance which had been carried out through the Centre for Environmental Design of Renewable Energy (CEDREN) Sustainable Grid Development (SusGrid) Project via the University of Exeter.

The SusGrid Project was an interdisciplinary research project involving a team of academics from Norway and the UK that took place between 2011 and 2014. The project aimed to inform EU goals for renewable energy generation and the expansion of electricity networks. Research highlights were presented at a workshop in London at the end of the project. Presentations included a session that explored public acceptance of power lines, and acknowledged that the perceived visual impact on rural landscapes is a key factor.

Analysis of qualitative data from the case studies revealed how arguments against power line siting viewed ‘industrial’ power lines as being in opposition to the ‘natural’ countryside. The research also showed how different types of ‘countryside’ were represented in different ways by those concerned about proposals for new overhead lines, in an effort to show how out of place new power lines would be in local areas.

An investigation of preferences for different 400kV pylon designs was also undertaken, in January 2012, as part of a larger online survey. It was completed by a representative sample of UK residents to understand their perceptions about high voltage power lines. Three pylon designs - existing steel lattice pylon; the new T-pylon designed by Bystrup; and the Totem pylon designed by New Town Studio Structure Workshop, (shortlisted in the pylon design competition) – were used in the survey. The images also all displayed the same backdrop and pylon colour.

However, the order of presentation of the three images was randomised to minimise order of presentation effects when expressing a preference. Participants were asked to rank the pylon designs, and to note to what extent they fitted in well with the landscape. Data received was then analysed in two ways, descriptively and using multivariate statistical analysis (regressions).

The survey identified that the pylon design most preferred by UK adults was the T-pylon.

This research assisted TEP in preparing evidence submitted to the Planning Inspectorate as part of the Hinkley C Connection examination in February 2015. The use of the research findings in understanding preferences in pylon design, and their perceived impact on landscape, has also highlighted the potential for more collaborative working between researchers and practitioners.

The use of this type of research has helped TEP, as practitioners, to better understand the context of assumptions that we have used. It is hoped that the future benefit of this greater understanding will be to enable practitioners to demonstrate how they have effectively considered the public’s preferences in the context of power transmission.


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