Longdendale gets a facelift


Longdendale - Credit: Archant

Roly Smith discusses the latest plans to reduce the visual impact of power lines in protected landscapes

 Cllr Sue Perry Smith of Dunford Parish Council (right of millstone) with the team from the National Park and National...

Cllr Sue Perry Smith of Dunford Parish Council (right of millstone) with the team from the National Park and National Grid who installed the new millstone marker at Dunford Bridge - Credit: Archant

Alfred Wainwright, writer of the best-selling Pennine Way Companion, was not exactly enamoured with the deep valley of Longdendale, between the boggy summits of Bleaklow and Black Hill.

The curmudgeonly old fell-wanderer dismissed it as ‘a mess’ and labelled it ‘Manchester-in-the-Country’ because of the string of reservoirs, former railway (now part of the Trans-Pennine Trail), the busy A628 trunk road and the string of high-voltage electricity pylons which were all crammed into its narrow confines.

But most lovers of these highest and wildest parts of the Dark Peak (which Wainwright never liked anyway) would agree that his rather grumpy assessment was more than a little unfair.

And although the ever-present threat of an improved, motorway-standard road still hangs over Longdendale, there was some recent good news. The Government announced £170m plans to improve the A628 and A57 including a feasibility study into the possible use of a tunnel under the moors.

It was also announced that three sections of the unsightly overhead power lines which pass through the valley have been shortlisted by the National Grid as part of a £500 million project to reduce the visual impact of lines in protected landscapes across Britain.

The money has been made available by Ofgem and will be used by National Grid to implement a number of measures to reduce the visual impact of lines. These will range from replacing overhead lines with underground cables and re-routeing them, through to using different pylon types and screening lines from public viewpoints.

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The group is now carrying out feasibility studies into the shortlisted sections of line, looking at the economic, social, environmental, archaeological and heritage issues, and talking to local groups ahead of a further announcement, which is expected in the spring.

John Scott, planning director at the Peak District National Park, commented: ‘We welcome this news as this is the longest and most prominent section of high voltage line in the National Park.

‘These measures would greatly improve the appearance of the valley, which runs through some of the wildest moorland landscapes in the Peak District. The pylon towers and the overhead cables are some of the most intrusive modern elements in the valley.’

Any undergrounding scheme would take several years, during which there would inevitably be some disruption in the valley and to the users of the trail. But this is clearly a very welcome proposal which would be of great benefit to the special character of this part of the Peak District.

When they were constructed in the mid-19th century, the five reservoirs which flooded Longdendale – the Woodhead, Torside, Rhodeswood, Valehouse and Bottoms – were the largest stretch of man-made water in the world.

And while the Woodhead road and reservoirs altered the surface appearance of the area, the three-mile Woodhead Tunnels to the east burrowed far beneath it, and already takes some of the power lines.

Local people at Dunford Bridge, at the eastern end of the dale, are obviously proud of their surroundings, and the first millstone boundary marker to be installed by the Park for more than 25 years was recently unveiled in the village.