The UK does not have restrictions on how close homes can be built to power lines provided they comply with the statutory safety clearance distances. (Various restrictions have been considered at various times though not adopted - see the different possibilities here.)
For the most part high-voltage transmission lines cross rural land and skirt the major conurbations such as London and Manchester bringing electricity to the main centres of demand. They also cross old industrial areas and brownfield sites that may once have been old power station sites or sites of now redundant heavy industry. Consequently, the drive towards urban regeneration and sustainable urban extensions means that development sites crossed by or close to overhead lines are being identified for development.
The UK electricity industry has no formal say in the identification of these development sites. It does however, provide advice to developers, local planning authorities and others on statutory safety clearances that must be maintained by any new development, the industry’s maintenance requirements, and similar technical issues. For further information on National Grid’s approach, see the section of National Grid’s web site on Development near Lines.
Neither the UK Government nor the Health Protection Agency have recommended any special precautions for the development of homes near power lines on EMF grounds. The Stakeholder Advisory Group on EMFs (SAGE) considered possible precautionary measures, which includes an option of preventing further development near power lines. Government responded to SAGE in October 2009 and rejected this option:
"However SAGE's cost benefit analysis does not support the option of creating corridors around power lines on health grounds. The Government therefore considers this additional option to be disproportionate in the light of the evidence base on the potential health risks arising from exposure to ELF/EMF and has no plans to take forward this action." (para 4)
Government policy in the UK is that when planning permission for new developments is considered, the relevant consideration is whether the relevant exposure guidelines are complied with or not.
This principle is set out in the Written Ministerial Statement of October 2009 the response to SAGE that is the most recent statement of Government policy. But the practical details of how exactly EMF compliance would be considered in planning applications has yet to be worked out. The Statement says:
"The Government does recognise that work is needed to ensure that new building developments and the siting of new power lines take proper account of the 1998 ICNIRP exposure levels and the EU Recommendation and will work proactively with the electricity industry and local authorities to explore the incorporation of the international standards formally into the planning system."
We are aware of just one case (download the inspector's report - pdf, 3MB) where a contrary view was taken in a planning issue. An Inspector ruled that planning permission should not be given for a development in Merton, South London, because it would bring a substation close to bedrooms. No actual field levels seem to have been provided, and there is no indication that the Inspector was aware of the existence of exposure limits. We presume (but, of course, cannot be certain) that if it was heard again now, with the clarity provided by the Written Ministerial Statement, permission would not have been refused on the same grounds.
Until recently, we were not aware of any UK mortgage lender which has a policy of refusing mortgages for properties near overhead lines or on grounds of EMFs. In the last year, we have heard of at least one such policy, and we are talking to the relevant bodies about this. If, however, you encounter any such problems, try contacting National Grid’s EMF unit who have experience of this and may be able to help you.
Sometimes, automated online searches about properties will report the presence of a power line or substation. See more information on these and how to interpret them.
Surveyors and the RICS 'red book'
The latest version of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors ‘Red Book’ (RICS Appraisal & Valuation Standards 2003) provides the following official guidance to property surveyors and valuers:
“The possible effects of electric and magnetic fields have been the subject of occasional media coverage and where there is high voltage electrical supply equipment close to the property there is a risk that public perception may affect marketability.”
In order to prevent unacceptable distortion of the housing market, erroneous or misleading reports by surveyors or valuers on EMF issues are closely monitored and reported to the relevant authorities.
Regular Continuing Professional Development workshops on EMF issues are also provided for surveyors, agents and other property professionals. For further information on these, please Contact Us.
Designing developments near lines
There are no restrictions on how close new homes can be built to power lines in the UK. That means planning permission should not be refused on EMF grounds.
But where development is proposed on a site crossed by an overhead line there are good operational and amenity reasons – not to do with EMFs - for not siting built development directly beneath or immediately adjacent to overhead lines. Instead these areas could be used for car parking, storage areas, transport routes, sustainable urban drainage, landscaping etc.
More information on the land use options available, and on a recent initiative to enable better quality development near power lines is available on National Grid’s ‘Sense of Place’ website.
This section deals with the issues of homes close to power lines in the UK. Because the situation differs between countries, we have separate pages on the USA
Data on homes near lines
Automated online property searches
See more information on online environmental property searches and how to interpret them.
The UK does not have corridors along power lines. See more information on why this is and what widths have sometimes been suggested.
Help for home buyers
National Grid’s EMF unit helpline regularly receives enquiries from prospective homebuyers and sellers who are concerned about the health implications of nearby electricity facilities. The EMF unit provides relevant information to concerned individuals and will undertake field measurements as appropriate. It can also supply literature for home sellers to pass on to agents, prospective vendors and their advisers.