Talks aimed at removing two unsightly electricity pylons from the playing fields of Waverley Abbey Junior School in Tilford have collapsed after a gruelling six-year legal battle involving various stakeholders.
Despite fervent efforts by the school community and a neighbouring landowner to push through the pylons’ removal, electricity company SSE has pulled the plug on its offer to remove them free of charge after failing to seal an agreement with the Diocese of Guildford, Surrey County Council and Department of Education.
Waverley Abbey School’s towering pylons have long marred the scenic backdrop of the its playing fields – and five years after SSE first offered to remove them for free, there was hope last year the legal easements needed to secure their removal were reported to be close to completion.
One year on, however, and SSE’s final ‘take or leave it’ deadline passed at the end of April with the complicated legal agreement between the electricity company, Diocese of Guildford and Surrey County Council still proving elusive.
As a consequence, SSE confirmed last Friday it had been left with no alternative but to exclude the school site from its plans – resolving to remove the pylons and bury high-voltage cables under neighbour Victoria Foster’s land only.
The news will dismay the 1,000-plus Tilford locals, school mums and dads who signed a petition calling for the pylons’ removal.
And calling the six-year legal wrangles a “nightmare from start to finish”, Mrs Foster added SSE’s decision represented a “phenomenally disappointing outcome” and a “dreadful waste of everyone’s time, resources and efforts, simply for the greater good of a wonderful countryside school".
She continued: "The positive for me is that our side will finally be taken care of swiftly now, and that I’ll be spared from the necessity of further communications with the three institutions involved, who have all, to my mind, played an equal part over the years to obfuscate and frustrate the process.
"A very very sad day indeed."
Surrey County Council and the Diocese of Guildford have, however, left the door ajar for SSE to reconsider – both saying SSE’s announcement came as a surprise, despite the Herald itself reporting the late-April deadline in February.
Tim Oliver, leader of Surrey County Council, said: “We were informed on Friday that SSE had withdrawn from this scheme despite giving no previous indication they would do so.”
He added all parties involved had been in communication and working towards obtaining the necessary agreements for the planned works during the summer.
As the freeholder of the land, Surrey County Council’s role was limited to granting consent and registering an unregistered area of land for the burial of cabling.
Cllr Oliver said this request was made just two weeks ago and was “actioned immediately”, but “typically takes six to eight weeks to complete”.
He added: “Throughout the process we have provided SSE with everything they have requested, and we remain happy to help if they decide to proceed with the works in future."
The Diocese of Guildford and its education provider The Good Shepherd Trust added in a joint statement: “On Friday, May 19, we were informed that SSE had decided to withdraw from the project without any notice or giving a reason for their withdrawal.
"SSE had set a deadline for the completion of the legal agreements however they were aware that all parties were working to get the necessary agreements in place to allow the works to be undertaken in the summer.
"We recognise that this has been a very long, protracted process with a very disappointing outcome for all concerned and we share the disappointment of the school community and local community that these works will now not go ahead.
"Considerable time, resources and effort has been put into addressing this complicated process. Both the Diocese of Guildford and The Good Shepherd Trust indicated their agreement for the works to be undertaken in the summer of 2023 and were waiting for SSE to reach agreement with the other parties involved. The SSE legal advisors were kept informed of developments throughout this period.
"If in the future SSE decide that they wish to proceed with the works, the Diocese of Guildford and The Good Shepherd Trust stand ready to assist in helping to get these works completed without further delay."