Welcome to Acton Bridge
Proposed Substation for Network Rail

"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing".
- Edmund Burke

Revision 52 of 16. January 2007 This section of the Acton Bridge website discussed National Grid's proposed development of a 400kV substation in our rural Cheshire village, on its boundary with Weaverham. There was fierce local opposition to the plan, and a well-organised campaign led to its eventually being thrown out by Vale Royal Borough Council.

We've just received confirmation that Network Rail intend to site their trackside feeder station in Halton, with an underground 25kV connection to National Grid's existing 400kV substation on the Frodsham / Runcorn border. Halton Borough Council granted planning permission under Application No 06/00665/FUL. This is a suggestion which SAG made some three years ago!

Although the threat to Acton Bridge has now passed, we hope that other campaigners seeking to preserve their local Green Belt may be able to learn from our experience.

SAG Logo by Tony Daffern

Copyright NC 2005

The Northwich Chronicle banner headline, 18. May 2005, says it all

Editor Paul Brown reported that Network Rail and National Grid Transco would not appeal against Vale Royal Borough Council's unanimous refusal of their planning applications for a substation and trackside feeder in Acton Bridge and Weaverham. Since the deadline has now passed, it does seem that our long campaign has succeeded!

The article quoted Network Rail's Steven Turner as saying : "We are currently looking at other alternatives in the Frodsham and Crewe areas. If we wanted to look at a site in Acton Bridge and Weaverham, however, we would have to come back with a fresh proposal".

The article also quoted Steve Pardoe, who said that SAG had consistently argued that Crewe and Frodsham would be more acceptable locations, and that the applicants seriously misjudged the determination of local people when they picked this 'convenient' spot on the map. You can also read SAG Chair Glen Gidley's message to our many loyal supporters, and more from the local press.

It was the Northwich Chronicle which first revealed the scale of the substation proposals with a front-page "Residents get electric shock" feature on 24. September 2003. In the long run, it's Network Rail and National Grid who've had the shock. Just because we choose a rural lifestyle, it doesn't mean we can't do joined up thinking! Working together with the two Parish Councils and the Weaverham Trust, and willingly supported by residents and colleagues, SAG has sought professional expertise in many disciplines, and put together a powerful and authoritative defence of our communities which will, we hope, set such an example that other opportunist developers are dissuaded from ever trying such a scheme again.

We have also had strong cross-party political support from very early days. Mike Hall MP has gone out of his way to raise the matter in the House of Commons and within his constituency, and his firm and very public opposition to the proposals may well have influenced some Planning Committee members' decision. County Cllr Nora Dolphin voiced her support when she inaugurated our 2000+ signature petition, one of the largest ever received by Vale Royal. VRBC Cllr Richard Gorrill has also been a great help in publicly organising local support from the outset. Having them all at our banner event last October was a great example of local politics in action.

Update 2. June 2005:

On 25. May the Northwich Chronicle reported that Mike Hall had congratulated campaigners who fought off plans for a development which they say would have destroyed the Green Belt. Mr Hall, who supported the long campaign, said: 'The fact they haven't appealed is, I believe, a recognition by NR and NGT that they would stand little chance of winning an appeal because of the strength of local feeling. That's all credit to SAG and the quality of the campaign the group has fought. SAG's campaign has been very skilfully led by chairman Glen Gidley who was the driving force behind it. I would give credit, too, to Vale Royal Borough Council for standing up for its own plans to protect the Green Belt. Vale Royal has set in place a framework to do that, and this has been the biggest test of it.'

Recent changes to the planning process, announced by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, had increased the period for lodging an Appeal from three months to six months. We interpreted this to mean that the developers now had until 23. May 2005 to announce an Appeal against Vale Royal Borough Council's Planning Committee's refusal. You can read more on our Press Release page. It now seems that our long campaign has forced the developers to abandon their efforts to build the substation here.

VRBC's Planning Committee, which met on Tuesday 16. November 2004, voted unanimously to REFUSE planning permission for all three Planning Applications.

There has been excellent press coverage, and we have published a new "Timeline" page listing the highlights of our campaign.

Steve Pardoe, Communications Officer for SAG, remarked : "Local residents, their two Parish Councils, Weaverham Trust and the Substation Action Group are delighted by the Borough Council's decision. All our arguments, plus a petition signed by well over two thousand residents, countless letters of objection, clear cross-party political support, an independent technical report, and the Planning Officer's own recommendations have combined to provide an overwhelming case for rejection, which was resoundingly endorsed in the Council chamber, with not a single Councillor speaking in support of the proposals. We can take pride in the work which SAG and its many supporters have done, and I believe that we have carried out our task in a spirit of cooperation and integrity which I hope will serve as an example to others.

"Acton Bridge and Weaverham are two villages separated by the Green Belt, but united in cherishing it. The Applicants came across what the Minister of Transport called "the most convenient spot for a substation". This choice of location was clearly arbitrary, and it is clearly wrong. It was a cynical and opportunist assault on the values of the North Cheshire Green Belt, and, most notably, on Vale Royal's own Local Plan.

"We were relying on the Planning Committee to demonstrate that there is a higher power than National Grid, and uphold their own Local Plan by refusing the Applications. We are all relieved and grateful that they have done so."

"This historic decision marks the end of this phase of the battle. Our objective must now be to demonstrate that we have emerged from this process stronger than ever, and with further arguments, both technical and legal, at our disposal should it be necessary to deploy them. Our campaign is already the subject of academic studies, and the website remains a valuable resource for groups who have campaigns of their own to organise".

You can read more on other pages about the campaign's earlier stages and summary "timeline".

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Public Planning Meeting in Acton Bridge - well over a hundred residents turn out to show support. Read a report (and link to Press Release) on Monday's very successful meeting here!

Mike Hall MP and Cllr Nora Dolphin join 80+ local residents at SAG's Banner Event to show their cross-party support for the campaign, and join in handing a 2,117 - signature petition to Vale Royal Borough Council!

Please follow these links to read more about the campaign, press coverage and the Substation Action Group.

Petition presented to VRBC
The Petition with 2,117 signatures is handed to Richard Hallows, VRBC's Director of Social and Community Services (second left), by Cllr Nora Dolphin and Weaver Vale MP Mike Hall (front right). Glen Gidley, SAG Chair, and the Chairmen of Acton Bridge and Weaverham Parish Councils and the Weaverham Trust are also in the photo. This is thought to be one of the largest petitions ever presented to VRBC, and represents a very high turnout of the local electorate.

Banner event To draw attention to the location and scale of the proposed site, members of the Substation Action Group, with the full support of the landowner and another local farmer, have erected bright yellow banners to show just how far the substation complex would stretch along Station Road, ruining the view and destroying forever the rural nature of these communities. The banners were inaugurated at a special site meeting on Saturday 9. October.
Brian Wilson, the farmer on whose land the substation would be built, joins SAG Chairman Glen Gidley, Cheshire County Councillor Nora Dolphin, and Weaver Vale MP Mike Hall at the event on Saturday

Campaign Update : IPSA Power's report to the Local Planning Authority states categorically that Acton Bridge is not the only suitable site, and that there is no technical reason for Network Rail to demand connection to a 400kV supply! This leads SAG once again to ask the developers : what is their hidden agenda for Acton Bridge and Weaverham?

Mike Hall MP continues to be an active and welcome supporter of our campaign. He secured an Adjournment Debate on Budget Day, and the substation issue was raised with, and answered by, the Minister of State at the Department for Transport, Dr Kim Howells.

The Minister responded as follows: "I appreciate what he said; he is trying to represent the interests of his constituents who live in that lovely part of the world, and who face the prospect of a substation suddenly being dumped in their back yard. However, the site is at the point where the 400 kV electricity supply line crosses the railway line, which is the most convenient spot for a substation to feed the west coast main line, enabling the new trains plying that line, which need much more electricity than existing trains, to receive the upgrade".

So, the Minister confirms that it's all a matter of convenience. You can read the full debate in Hansard (link changed)

What the campaign's all about

National Grid are planning to install an enormous 400kV substation in our village. It's on behalf of Network Rail, to serve a new 25kV trackside feeder, and positioned on a green field site bounded by the railway, the A49, and B5153 Station Road. They claim that their existing 132kV-based supply sources are not enough "to enable new trains to run on the West Coast Main Line".

I think the description of "substation" is disingenuous. It's not like a typical village substation serving a few houses : the installation, wholly within the designated Green Belt, will be huge, roughly the size of three rugby football pitches, with all-night illumination and an electrified fence, and highly visible from the road, nearby houses, and local public footpaths. The site area covers about two hectares (approximately five acres) and would start immediately beyond the hedge in the foreground of the photo below, totally obliterating the rural landscape.

The proposed Green Belt site, June 2004

The green field site, looking south from the B5153, photographed over the hedge approximately 50m west of the A49 overbridge. This angle of view would be substantially filled by the proposed substation and its ancillary installations...

...and here's a picture of what we think it might look like. Click on the picture to enlarge it and learn more.

A comparable installation in Runcorn, October 2003 : click to enlarge

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National Grid and Network Rail presented a Public Information Event (read - ticking the box marked "local consultation") in Weaverham on Thursday and Friday evenings 18th and 19th September 2003, with posters and brochures about the "Proposed Substation at Weaverham". Representatives of the two organisations and their PR advisers, Lynx, easily outnumbered visitors when I was there. Lynx claimed to have letter-dropped to all the houses of people they considered would be affected, but a family living barely 100m from the site entrance didn't get one, nor did the hundreds of people in the further parts of the two villages, who may not live near it but would see it every day, on their way to work or the shops. The B5153 is a busy road, and is the principal highway from Acton Bridge, Crowton, Kingsley and Frodsham towards Weaverham, Northwich and its other outlying villages.

This PR exercise starts off with another piece of disinformation, since the site of the NG "substation" is entirely within the Parish of Acton Bridge, not in Weaverham as their brochure claims. Only Network Rail's trackside feeder station would be in Weaverham (see the site plan below : the parish boundary is shown in yellow). A cynic might assume that this discrepancy, and the location of the Public Information Event, were intended to draw attention away from the impact that this development would have on Acton Bridge, even for those who live some distance from it.

The Substation Action Group has now taken the initiative, and held our own public meetings so that residents can learn the truth about National Grid and Network Rail's plans, and discuss them with people who have their interests at heart.

According to the Northwich Chronicle (1. October 2003, p3), "National Grid denied it had been 'disingenuous'. Community relations spokesman Martin Howell said: 'I don't understand how the residents can have that impression. The first time we unveiled the plans was at the information meeting at Weaverham last week, where there were detailed plans on display, and we gave out a six-page leaflet'".

Well, I do understand how residents "can have that impression". Several people have commented that if you were a resident of Acton Bridge, and you saw that an event was to be held in Weaverham to discuss a "proposed substation at Weaverham", you might well assume that this was of no immediate importance to you, and decide not to visit the event. This is why I think the description was 'disingenuous'. Weaver Vale MP Mike Hall put it rather more strongly, saying it was "totally and utterly misleading".

You can read our press releases here, and news media comment is being collected here.

If you would like to lend your support, advice or experience to the debate, please e-mail (link below) or contact your nearest Parish Councillor. Here's a picture of concerned local residents at the photo-call for the press on Wednesday 24. September...

Local residents at the on-site photo-call

Visitors to the nopylon.co.uk web site

There have been so many "interesting" hits on this website that they are now discussed in a separate visitors' page. Many regulars are from the rail and power industries (including, of course, NGT and Network Rail themselves, and their contractors). If readers find anything here that they think is factually incorrect, please advise (e-mail link below) and I'll be delighted to correct it. I have no wish to mislead my readership.

Hammond Suddards Solicitors examined the site on 14. January 2004. Hammonds list National Grid Transco among their clients. Is there a problem, gentlemen, or was your overt visit merely an exercise in nasty (and unnecessary) intimidation?

Bad PR can be catastrophic to a company's reputation, as BT Cellnet found to their cost. They, too, briefed a large firm of solicitors in connection with a previous web campaign. It didn't go well for them. Click here to learn more.....

Visual blight and screening

There's no doubt that the substation and its associated pylons, cables and switchyard will be a very significant blot on the landscape, in designated Green Belt, at a visually sensitive place right by the principal road over the boundary of the two villages.

According to the local newspaper (Northwich Guardian, 17/9/2003 p26),

"The 'footprint' of the substation could be as much as 205m long and 92m wide with a mix of buildings reaching up to about 7.5m high, with a 12m high gantry".

In Imperial units, that's 673 feet by 302 feet, with buildings 25 feet high and gantries 39 feet high.

An expert on such installations has kindly taken the trouble to write to me, as follows :

"I believe people should be aware of the full facts, not those which come from the PR folk. This work is being paid for by NR [Network Rail] as the site will have no other use and is being built by NGT [National Grid Transco], who have to seek planning permission for it. Unlike NR, they do not have to seek a Transport & Works Act Order, which generates an automatic public inquiry if land has to be purchased. I'd imagine that they have sought the most economical solution to just drop the 400kV connections of the pylon line into the switchyard, thus determining its location".

As you can see from the site plan below, the northern end of the equipment area is so close to Station Road that there is not much room for tree screening; indeed, the trees shown on the plan are partly in the roadway. The newly located feeder pylon will be even taller than the existing one, to accommodate the increased cable span, but it still won't be feasible for trees of any size to be planted under the cables, so the easterly aspect of the site will remain wide open.

At the PIE, it was suggested that the substation site might be excavated, so as to lower the installation somewhat, perhaps using the removed topsoil to form an embankment. Again, there's not much room at the most sensitive point, where the site adjoins the B5153 and the A49 overbridge. If the substation were to be moved south, say to the other side of the existing 400kV cables, this would be much less intrusive, but NGT claim that some separation is needed between the substation and the railway track, to avoid high potential gradients which can be created on railway infrastructure as a result of a 400kV fault to earth. SAG subsequently found a comparable 400/25kV railway installation at Patford Bridge in Northamptonshire, which is much smaller than the Acton Bridge site and immediately adjacent to the railway, contradicting NGT's technical argument.

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Many of the visitors to the PIE were told that National Grid might offer to make the remaining area of the field, to the west and south of their substation complex, available for public access and amenities for the village, perhaps in the form of a children's play area or picnic site. However, it's hard to see who would want their child to play right next to such an enormous electrical installation, or who would choose to picnic there when the view is of electrical plant rather than green fields and trees as elsewhere in the village. We already have our Woodland Trust site, and a playground. On the contrary, the only direct public footpath between Weaverham and Acton Bridge, which is an ancient Drovers' Road, will now share a field with the substation, and will be a lot less attractive to walkers.

Health concerns

The National Radiological Protection Board (link below) has carried out, and reported on, case studies of the effects of electric and magnetic fields on health (for example, childhood leukaemia). You can read about this on their website.

Why they say it's needed

Apparently, the new trains running on the anticipated timetable need more electricity than the old ones; among other reasons given to me was "because the carriages have power sockets for laptop computers", which left me unconvinced! Again, my expert writes :

"The advent of Pendolino trains on the WCML [West Coast Main Line, which runs through Acton Bridge] leads to an increase in power demand, each unit being rated at 7.6MVA, as opposed to a class 90 at 4.8MVA for example. The Pendolini do have higher auxiliary demands than the outgoing trains, but this is insignificant considering the increase in traction power".

Of course, the total demand must also depend on how many trains are running at any given time. We all have our views of the railway industry, and the trend away from rail travel in favour of private cars and low-cost airlines, so Network Rail's admission that the increased electrical capacity is predicted by computer simulation may be revealing.

We're now discussing the rail traffic trends on a new page here.


This is a copy of the site plan proposed by National Grid (copyright National Grid and Ordnance Survey). The yellow Parish boundary and text were added by the Editor.

Proposed site plan, September 2003, with acknowledgements to copyright holders. Yellow Parish boundary and text added by Editor.

For practical reasons, National Grid and Network Rail say their combined site needs to be near a conjunction of the 400kV super-grid, the WCML railway, and a road of sufficient standard to permit access for the very heavy and bulky equipment which has to be installed ; and of course for the civil engineering and construction plant, removal of excavated material, and so on. Ironically, the electrical equipment is far too big to be brought by train, which gives some idea of how gigantic this installation will be. From a purely economic standpoint, the site chosen suits them well. National Grid say that they've studied twenty possible 400kV tower locations in the area, with help from The Environment Partnership, "taking into account planning, environmental and technical constraints", and this is the "preferred" one. They don't however mention cost, or say where the other potential sites were, or what the relative merits / problems might be, so the argument is unconvincing.

It's particularly galling that this development should be dumped on the village just as train services from Acton Bridge are being cut back even further. It's now impossible to commute to Liverpool for a normal working day, and the Pendolino trains, for which the increased power is required, won't even be stopping at Hartford.

If you'd like to know what you can do to help, please use the e-mail link at the bottom of this page. And do please bookmark this website and call back, as it's being updated frequently.

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Some other relevant links (these will take you off our site, opening a new browser window, and we are not responsible for what you may find there) :

National Grid
Network Rail
Strategic Rail Authority
The Environment Partnership
Another TEP electrical project, installation for the North Sea Interconnector
National Radiological Protection Board case studies of the effects of electric and magnetic fields on health (for example, childhood leukaemia)
CPRE Campaign to Protect Rural England

This content of this web page is the responsibility of its editor, Steve Pardoe, and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Acton Bridge Parish Council or any other organisation
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