James Ihaka

James Ihaka is a Herald reporter based in Hamilton.

Power pylons ruin dreams of paradise on lifestyle blocks

Huge pylons went up either side of the block Susie Jones and her husband bought at Te Miro in Waikato. Photo / Christine Cornege
Huge pylons went up either side of the block Susie Jones and her husband bought at Te Miro in Waikato. Photo / Christine Cornege

Susie Jones thought it was paradise, a 5000sq m block of land at Te Miro in the Waikato with sweeping views of the Kaimai Ranges and as far north as the Firth of Thames.

With her husband, Vince, she built her house in 2003 with spacious decks for the views, macrocarpa floors and ceilings, landscaped gardens and other personal touches they had saved for years to have.

"It was our dream home," said Ms Jones, 48. "It was just stunning and where we wanted to spend the rest of our days.

"Then it happened ... we learned that these big white elephants were coming."

In late 2004, the Jones discovered their home was smack in the middle of a proposed upgrade to the ageing national power grid.

They were also to learn that the proposed pylons to carry the electricity were to be bigger - much bigger - than the ones that already dotted the landscape.

Now a reality, and near completion, the 400,000-volt-capacity line stretches 186km from a new substation in Whakamaru to a new switching station at Whitford in Manukau.

While providing surety for Aucklanders and people in the upper North Island in the future, for many in the Waikato the upgrade leaves a legacy of protest, frustration and heartbreak.

It has also left people like the Jones, who are not among the more than 330 property owners to receive some compensation from electricity grid operator Transpower, out of pocket.

This despite two 60m pylons close to their home - one with wires hanging 9m from their property boundary, the other in the middle of their vista.

The couple sold their home in 2010 but lost out financially.

"We were 9m from compensation and we didn't get a cent," said Ms Jones.

"It was just heartbreaking. I had to drop the price $70,000 to sell it, so we took a huge hit."

Transpower spokeswoman Rebecca Wilson said about $700 million had been spent on the project, which is due to begin transmission on September 16. The final cost is expected to be $824 million.

The full and final land compensation costs of $160 million were significantly higher than initially estimated, with 97 properties bought outright although their re-sale and savings made on other aspects of the project may offset this.

Transpower has sold 40 per cent of these properties.

Former Manukau City mayor Sir Barry Curtis continues to oppose the project and still believes there should be underground cabling from Otahuhu to the Bombay Hills.

Sir Barry feared the pylons had set a precedent for further, similar infrastructure to transfer energy across other parts of New Zealand.

"Quite frankly they just desecrate the magnificent, natural environment," he said.

Steve Hunt, the former chairman of Homeowners Against Line Trespassers and former executive member of lobby group New Era Energy, campaigned vociferously against the overhead transmission lines.

But like many of his neighbours he gave up the fight and in 2008 sold to Transpower the 4ha property he spent years developing and wanted to retire on.

Mr Hunt said the project was going to go through at "any cost".

New Era Energy went to the High Court to argue out-of-date figures had over-estimated Auckland's future energy consumption and claims of Government bias but lost.

With costs of $115,000 awarded against them the group went into liquidation in 2009.

It's taken its toll on Mr Hunt - he is no longer married.

And many of those in his old community no longer live in Nairn Rd, Hunua.

- NZ Herald

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