Farmers are entitled to demand full compensation for march of the pylons

Derisory offers from power companies have no basis in law and should not be accepted

The visual impacts of the infrastructure are only part of the story
The visual impacts of the infrastructure are only part of the story

Richard Collins

Is it worthwhile resisting the installation of major electric powerline infrastructure on your farm?

This is a question I am frequently asked by farmers. Honesty and experience requires me to admit that it is doubtful given that the powers held by ESB/Eirgrid are so strong.

Huge sums have been spent on objections and, while there have been a few notable successes, it is very likely that these schemes could return in a slightly different form.

Another frequent question is about the health hazards associated with electric lines.

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While I am not in a position to give guidance on this matter, there is a definite perception in the public mind and this is reflected by a negative impact on the value of adjoining property.

Most people accept that power infrastructure, based on steel pylons and electric wires over land, is essential for the orderly development of the country.

However, this does not mean that anybody should be expected to contribute either assets or time for the public good without compensation.

Like it or not, everything has a price. The conflict that has developed, in recent years, with ESB/Eirgrid, is directly related to the stubborn and poorly managed policy of that semi-state body.

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This view is supported by the contrasting, and reasonably successful, policy of Gas Networks Ireland (formerly Bord Gais) when dealing with farmers for the construction of gas pipelines.

Legal powers do not confer the right on any entity, public body or private individual, to excessively dominate other people's entitlements.

Compensation schemes for Wayleaves and Easements

The compensation process for wayleaves and easements is complex, mainly because of the hidden nature of some impacts.

The visual impacts of the infrastructure are only part of the story.

Both ESB/Eirgrid and Gas Networks Ireland have tremendous legal powers to acquire rights to land interests, and most landowners do not realise the long-term implications of parting with these rights, without compensation, until it is too late.

Conveyancing solicitors may now need to carefully consider the long-term implications of parting with these rights in the light of increasing values and the more intensive use of land.

In fairness to Gas Networks Ireland, it has recognised these implications and has generally compensated reasonably.

Not so in the case of ESB/Eirgrid. Since its creation in 1927, and with the exception of a few years prior to 2010, ESB/Eirgrid has constantly and robustly resisted compensation for land and property devaluation arising from electric powerlines.

At times, they have even mercy pleaded about the cost of properly compensating farmers, conveniently forgetting the much greater cost of High Courts and arbitrations.

One brave landowner, Ms. Gormley, took her case as far as the Supreme Court in 1985 to establish her entitlements.

Despite that Court finding in her favour, and clearly stating that a wayleave/easement over land, to facilitate the construction of a powerline, was "a burdensome right" over that land, ESB/Eirgrid are still strongly challenging compensation claims and awards at arbitration and in the Courts.

ESB/Eirgrid senior executives and advisors should well know that the grounds for successfully appealing arbitration awards are very limited.

Attempting to intimidate landowners in this manner is totally unacceptable.

Millions have been wasted in legal and other consultancy costs designing major infrastructure schemes that have had to be eventually abandoned because of landowners' resistance.

Further millions are still being expended on costs aimed at resisting farmer's legitimate entitlements to compensation. If all this money was used properly there would be a much better outcome for everybody.

Powerlines should not be erected on land prior to comprehensive agreements that fully reflect the rights to compensation, laid down by Statute and Case Law.

'Mickey Mouse' payments, alone, for pylons are totally inappropriate and have no basis in law and should not be accepted as adequate by farmers.

Richard Collins is a consultant with FBA Consultants, based in Fermoy, Co Cork. He is the co-author of A Practical Guide to Compulsory Purchase in Ireland

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