CONTROVERSIAL plans to replace eight Hampshire pylons with underground power lines have been put on hold.

National Grid has decided to “pause” a landscape improvement project at Hale Purlieu, near Fordingbridge, after taking advice from legal experts and industry regulators.

It has cited what it describes as “emerging complexities” surrounding European rules which aim to safeguard the habitats of protected species.

Shortly after the plans were unveiled locals formed an action group called The Protect Hale Purlieu Movement (PHPM) as well as launching a protest petition.

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Objectors complained that a large part of the environmentally-sensitive site would be dug up or used for storage.

One of the protesters who addressed a recent meeting of the National Park Authority said: “This is a totally unnecessary desecration of New Forest land.”

A planning application was due to submitted soon but the scheme has now been delayed indefinitely.

In a statement, the National Grid said: “While these regulations are designed to prevent the permanent loss of habitats, and not stop short-term work which we believe could have provided a net gain to the environment, it is evident that the legal position is complex and untested for a project of this nature.

“It is therefore unlikely that a planning application would receive approval before the funding deadline.”

David Wright, director of electricity transmission at National Grid, said: “This project would remove eight electricity pylons while enhancing a nationally important landscape, and potentially improving and extending the important habitats in this beautiful part of the New Forest National Park.”

Daily Echo:

Despite the protests Mr Wright claimed there was “strong support” for the plans.

But he added: “The current round of funding is only available for a limited time, and due to what we believe is an unintended consequence of the regulations it has become clear that we will not be able to complete this in time.

“We hope it will be possible to return at some future date when the legal position has been resolved.”

A PHPM spokesman added: “The Protect Hale Purlieu Movement are delighted that the National Grid has decided to suspend its plans.”

One of the group’s supporters posted: “Magic boys - your work was awesome. I cannot thank you enough.”