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The impact of electric transmission lines on suburban areas : a case study in Surrey, British Columbia MacArthur, Douglas Brian

Abstract

The central problem which overhead electric transmission lines pose for suburban areas is that right of way location decisions made in earlier years have influenced, and sometimes determined, the present overall pattern of suburban development and especially its residential aspects. The study is therefore limited to considerations of the impact on residential areas. The result has been that past decisions made by one agency on the basis of technical determinants and economic criteria applicable to a utility project have often been responsible for the present form and pattern of urban areas. Another problem is that in the suburban areas near those lines which have ugly structures and unmaintained rights of way, there is an adverse effect upon the quality of adjacent residential development. This effect is most marked in those areas which are striving for urban standards of residential density and neighbourhood amenity. Almost equally important with the effects which power lines may have on the areas they pass through is the simple fact of the tremendous amount of land which they use and alienate for most other urban uses. The study is concerned with the impact of overhead electric transmission lines on suburban areas, and not with electric lines at distribution voltages. Extra high voltage lines are of special interest to planning, for they present technical and economic problems which either preclude or make impractical converting them to underground forms. Accordingly, as overhead transmission lines are likely to have continuing effect, the following hypothesis is advanced. Because the location of overhead electric transmission lines has had considerable influence (sometimes adverse) on the spatial pattern of residential development, there is need for coordinating the requirements of the utility agency and the appropriate planning agencies. The study describes in some detail those locational requirements and standards of electric transmission lines which have a bearing upon the use of land. The optimum locational requirements for overhead electric transmission line rights of way and suburban density and types of residential development are shown to be nearly identical. The two are therefore in competition for the use of land, and this competition is most marked in suburban areas where land values are lower than in the central city. A specific examination is carried out of transmission line effects on the suburban residential area of Surrey, British Columbia, which is an urbanizing municipality on the fringes of the Vancouver metropolitan area. The case study shows that there is a significant correlation between the present pattern of residential development, as measured by assessment values and population distribution, and the presence of transmission line rights of way. The study concludes that the presence of the lines is the most likely causal factor. That the influence has been sometimes adverse is not as definitely established, but the conclusion may be inferred from subjective evaluation of the aesthetic evidence presented. Further study of objective evidence is called for. The statement in the hypothesis that it is necessary to coordinate the requirements of the utility agency and the appropriate planning agencies is basically valid, but is felt to be inadequate. It is concluded that the activity must, wherever possible, be an integrative one, and involve many other departments of government, including the federal. It is suggested that an integrative Provincial Development Department could well be the most effective method of controlling the more unfavourable aspects of electric transmission line right of way location and appearance.

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