If there's one thing that really gets my back up, it's someone trying to bully or intimidate me. It rarely works, it just makes me angry.
If you've been following this blog, you may recall a post some time back in August concerning the high voltage power lines that oversail my plot, sadly very close to our new house. They do, in fact, just about cross directly over the very furthest corner of the garage. Now whilst these lines do not supply my new house and there is no equipment actually on my land, their proximity to the garage means that they are below a safe working distance, according to the regulations of the DNO, who is SSEPD in my area.
I had a meeting with the local wayleave officer, let's call him AJ, on 14th August to discuss the situation and how to resolve matters. From the outset, I have stated that I have no issue with the oversailing lines and I'm not asking the DNO to remove them or do anything drastic, I would just like them to be made safe. AJ had a long look around the plot and came up with a rather complex proposal to bury the cables, via a somewhat convoluted route, digging up the lane and digging on the land of 3 different owners. The local linesman came out and had a look a few days later and suggested that the existing poles could simply be replaced by taller ones that would lift the cables up high enough to give safe clearance underneath them.
The DNO has issued me with quotes for both sets of work, both expensive, one slightly less so. The lesser of the two evils, raising the poles up, comes to the princely sum of £7,600 + VAT, so not much change out of £9k when all's said and done. If I accept, the raising of the pole height will take some time: the new poles would be more than 10% greater in height than the old ones and so the DNO requires planning approval for this. Then, it seems, they have to put some other sort of submission to another official body that will take another few months, so all told, it will be well into next year before anything happens, if it does.
This is the basic outline of what passed. What I haven't mentioned yet is the attitude and approach of AJ in all of this, which is what provoked my opening statement. From the very first telephone conversation that we had back at the beginning of August, he has been highly combative in a passive aggressive kind of way. So, no raising of voices, but very much a 'we're bigger than you and you will do as we say' style. This came to a head on Tuesday evening when AJ rang me at 5.10pm to discuss the quotes that had been sent through. In fact, what he actually wanted to do was rattle my cage because 30 minutes before his call, the local linesman had rung me to discuss the dates for burying my supply cable and had clearly been in the same office, chatting to AJ and saying that the garage had already been constructed.
AJ laid it on pretty thick. He said that SSEPD would 'make a contribution' towards the cost of increasing the height of the oversailing lines, and he clearly expected me to be grateful. They were offering to pay 25% of the cost (no VAT to charge to themselves), i.e. in the region of £1,500, but in exchange for this, they wanted an easement. Just as a refresher, the wayleave on my property currently is a voluntary one which I can serve notice on. An easement is a right in perpetuity, well beyond my lifetime, lodged against the deeds of the property.
As with all AJ's conversations, there were lots of long and deliberate pauses of the type that some idiots use when they think they are masters of manipulation and want to make the other party feel uncomfortable and force them into filling the silence. I shan't quote chapter and verse on it because it's far too tedious but suffice it to say, he really pissed me off and to the extent that I sent a forthright email to him later that night summarising what he had said and how he had said it. I also requested that he no longer contacted me by phone, but put everything in writing (email) so that I would have an audit trail.
Now, it may be that this gets me no further, but I have received a request from AJ's boss this afternoon, requesting a meeting to discuss the points I have raised. I have said that I will meet her, but I want to know in advance exactly what points she wants to discuss and how this will move things on. We shall see. In the meantime, for the record, here's the email I sent that gives more detail on what annoyed me so much.
Further to our telephone conversation late this afternoon, I feel that I need to email with my comments regarding this and my planned actions as a consequence, since I have been left very troubled by both your comments and your tone.
When we first met on site on 14th August, I explained to you that throughout the entire process of building my new house, I have used and relied upon professionals and have sought to do everything correctly and legally, as far as I have been able. To this end, the house was designed by a qualified architect who chose the location of the building on the site according to a topographical survey that was produced by a firm of chartered surveyors. Once the build was ready to commence, setting out of the building on site was again carried out by a chartered surveyor and there was no change from the original plans as detailed in the approved planning permission.
Unfortunately, it later became evident that the north east corner of the garage of the new house is directly under the power lines that oversail but which do not supply my property . However, I did not realise that these were high tension lines until my scaffolder contacted SSE to establish what type of lines these were and their nature then became clear. As a result, I have made all contractors who have come on site aware of these power lines.
The builder who constructed my house and garage was completely aware of the high tension lines and proceeded with the construction of the garage on a day when I wasn’t on site. I am told, however, that this was all done from floor level and inside the garage. Indeed, it is clear that it could not have been achieved in any other way, since there is no scaffolding around the garage to facilitate its construction from the outside. I can confirm that the timber frame of the garage has been completed, but the flat roof surface has not been put on it and I have advised my flat roofer that this is not to be done until such time as it can be completed safely. I have no desire to see anyone injured as a result of working on my site, whether it is due to ignorance or carelessness, and I deeply resent any assertion to the contrary. If I wish to take a risk with my own safety, I am free to do so, but I would not deliberately endanger others.
As evidenced by my approach to this build, at no point have I tried to cut corners or take any risks. I have also engaged with you in a co-operative, straight forward and positive manner during our meeting and our conversations. Regrettably, I cannot say the same for you or your approach.
I understand that you are paid to represent the interests of your company and, thus, your company’s shareholders. I also understand that a DNO has a public duty to ensure continuing and safe supply of electricity to its customers and have never disputed this, but I find your assertion that my seeking adequate financial compensation for SSE to have permanent rights over my property in the form of an easement will somehow increase everyone’s electricity bill to be an insulting one. Any charges paid by me to SSE are taken into the business as a whole which pays profits to its shareholders by way of distributing electricity and each DNO has an effective monopoly over its distribution area, so I have no choice in whom I deal with.
The wayleave that exists over my property is a very old one, dating back to the 1950s, and it is a voluntary wayleave agreement. My husband and I have owned this property since February 2017 and have never received any compensation due through this wayleave, although this would be an insignificant sum, in any event. I understand from the previous owner of the property that no payments have been received in respect of the wayleave as far as they are aware. The wayleave grants permission to the DNO to place its equipment on or over my land and I have no desire to have SSE remove its equipment from my property and have stated this since the outset of our discussions. I have also stated my willingness to offer SSE a far more secure tenure in the form of an easement which gives rights in perpetuity rather than on a voluntary basis as is the current situation. Given the longevity of an easement, its nature is very different from a wayleave, as you know, and despite your assertions to the contrary, it is a valuable difference to the property owner.
You kept referring back to the fact that the original wayleave is very old and that the equipment has been in situ for a long time, thus the financial impact on my property is negligible. I do not agree with this statement. It may have been true when the wayleave was first set up but that was over 60 years ago and property values have increased considerably in that time, particularly residential ones. The direct consequence of the oversailing wires is my inability to fully use and enjoy my property, as is my legal right; were the wires not oversailing my property, this would not be the case and I would be free to develop it as I choose. Therefore, there is a direct financial loss to me as a result of your company’s equipment passing over my land.
One solution that has been put forward to remove the danger posed by your equipment passing over my land is to increase the height of the existing poles so that the clearance between a person standing on my garage and the overhead lines is greater than the required safe distance. This seems like a very sensible solution and one with which I am in agreement. On 22 August SSE quoted a cost of £7,231.45 + VAT, a total of £8,677.74. I have researched the amount of compensation a property owner might reasonably expect to receive for granting permanent rights to their property by way of an easement to a DNO and I am advised that these are typically between 1% and 2% of the property value, when negotiated by parties familiar with this process. Based on a reasonable estimate, my property is conservatively valued at in the region of £800,000, thus giving a minimum expectation of £8,000 of compensation for granting an easement. You today stated that SSE are prepared to contribute 25% of the cost of increasing the pole height for the overhead lines, i.e. £1,807.86 since SSE will not need to charge themselves VAT on the cost of any works. I also doubt whether the quote provided to me is at cost to SSE and there will be a margin of profit in that so, in effect, the true cost to SSE of this contribution is far below 25% of the cost to me. I believe that this valuation of permanent rights over my property is an extremely poor offer and not one that I am prepared to accept.
In the interests of overcoming the issue of SSE’s equipment over my land, I have not sought to profit from the matter in any way; I have only sought to reach a fair and equitable solution and have dealt with you in a very transparent and fair manner. Indeed, I have already agreed to pay the charges for re-routing the power supply to my house and have no issue with this, since it is of direct benefit to me. On the other hand, you, on behalf of your employer, have been guarded and done all that you can to avoid straight answers, instead almost treating the process as though it is a game of poker where he who bluffs the best, gets the best deal. This has included difficult telephone conversations where you deliberately insert long, awkward silences presumably in an attempt to make me feel ill at ease or intimidated, and this has been the case in every conversation I have had with you. In addition to this, you constantly allude to issuing notices and starting other processes, without any explanation of what these are or what the outcome of them is, instead leaving these veiled threats hanging until I continually had to press you for answers to them. When you do finally explain what these other actions are, it seemed to be a circular argument that brings us back to where we began in the conversation and no further forward. Your rang me at 5.10pm this evening and our conversation lasted 37 minutes, in which time all your main objective seemed to be to attempt to intimidate me into accepting the above financial offer, otherwise you would serve me with legal notices and generally make things difficult for me to progress my house build.
For the record, I do not appreciate attempts to bully me, no matter how passive aggressive they are, and I think that it is disgraceful behaviour. It has also made me re-think my approach to this situation, since being transparent and fair does not seem to have produced any meaningful progress. Towards the end of our conversation, you stated that you want to continue our dialogue and see if we can reach a resolution. This, however, is not a poker game for me nor is it an enjoyable sport of seeing who will blink first and give in to the other’s proposal. As a result, I have no wish to continue any conversations with you since I feel it is a very stressful waste of my time. Therefore, unless you are prepared to deal with matters in a clear and straightforward way, next week I shall issue formal notice to SSE of withdrawal of the wayleave on our property. Once this is done, I shall instruct a firm of chartered surveyors experienced in negotiating financial compensation agreements with DNOs for the grant of wayleaves and easements and I feel confident that will, in due course, more than adequately cover the costs of any work to the oversailing wires.Please contact me via email only from now on as I want to have a permanent record of precisely how you respond to me."