This letter is full of love for the Blackmore Vale – and passionate, reasoned opposition to building a landscape changing giant solar farm in the ‘Vale of the little dairies’.
October 7th 2020
Dear Ms Telford
Counter Argument to Applicant’s Responses to public representations re Application for
Renewable energy scheme on Higher Stockbridge Farm, Longburton, Sherborne, DT9 6EP.
Planning Application Ref: WD/D/19/003181
I refer to the Applicant’s new Responses to public representations (August 2020).
I confirm that having studied the Applicant’s new Responses I remain opposed to their
scheme of placing solar PV panels on the valued landscape on the Stockbridge site. Please publish my objection on the Council Planning website.
There is nothing in the Applicant’s Responses document to persuade me to think differently
on the proposed installation of arrays of PV panels on land at Higher Stockbridge Farm.
The Applicant’s revised acreage (a reduction of less than 20%) will not change the impact of
the proposed solar panel arrays on this valued Blackmore Vale valley. It will as with the
previous application, result in the ruination of a bucolic landscape, its fauna and flora, and
will affect residents and visitors both near and far who delight in this peaceful valley (Keith
Waterfall’s document – analysis of Voltalia’s reassessment on the public’s concerns on
impact on wildlife). I refer you to Mr Waterfall’s summary (p.1, para.5), where the Voltalia
UK Country Manager admits in effect that they do not have the conservation experience to
lead this project.
I support and would refer you to Richard Pinney’s document countering the claims of the
Applicant’s Responses to public representations, and the bringing forth of information on
the workings of the company Voltalia (Pinney, AONB, 6).
The professional photographs (Johanna Gates document, Landscape, Photographs), ably
depict the beauty of this valley. The Applicant’s Responses do not refer to the
demonstrable beauty and value of the valley. It is side-stepped.
2. It is incomprehensible as to why the Applicant, despite all the cogent and thorough
objections from a national and international diverse community, is intent on destroying a
part of our unique and internationally important county. This valley is a continuance of our
glorious varied county with its thrilling landscapes, its geology, its habitats and bio-diversity, from coast to hills. We are at the starting point of understanding our secretive valleys and if we don’t stop this installation, future generations will have no opportunity to further discover new aspects of this landscape. (Gates document, Summary)
I refer you to the document (Pinney, 2.1 The need for a scheme in Dorset, pie chart), on
Dorset’s contribution of solar power to the grid. ‘West Dorset … will provide 16% above its
target WITHOUT the inclusion of Higher Stockbridge Farm site.’ Voltalia has set its sights on
the villages in this part of West Dorset. Yetminster and Clifton Maybank are now earmarked along with this enormous acreage at Higher Stockbridge. We already have a site in
Ryme Intrinseca, all in a radius of some 6 miles. (Pinney, AONB, 3)
Curiously, the Applicant asks where they can put the installations if they can’t put them on
agricultural land. The Applicant must follow government policy: solar panels are to go on
brown fields sites, on the roofs of warehouses, on farm barns, on industrial sites (Pinney, 2.
General Alternatives). Renewable energy should not be to the detriment to the
environment. They are not to go in valleys valued for their historic interest and beauty. It
has not passed us by that the attraction of the significant electric pylons in this area makes
solar power installations in our treasured landscape a cheaper option for Voltalia. Dorset
Planning must look at the motives for Voltalia plundering this part of West Dorset for their
installation schemes (Pinney, pp.6-8). The Applicant has not satisfactorily acknowledged our role as caretakers of our countryside. We do have a duty to future generations, to prevent this destruction of a significant valley within the preserved landscape of Dorset. (Waterfall, Responses to wildlife impact)
3 The Higher Stockwood proposed site is productive land whatever the grade attributed to it (Pinney, Agriculture Land). When you dig up the land and cover this enchanting landscape with thousands of solar panels, it will never be productive again. It will change from being ad dreamy agricultural valley (Gates, Photographs), with its hedgerows, its old trees, its grazing animals, its crops, its deer, its birds, insects and other animals, to arrays of a photovoltaic system (uncomfortably referred to as a Solar Park), and onwards to a permanent brown field site when the panels have withered and are no good to anyone (Pinney, AONB, 4, 5).
When these panels are deemed redundant and the public, the political and scientific
committees decide they no longer fit the energy bill and are incompatible with preserving
our national parklands, all that will be left will be a useless site, covered with tangled metal
that no one knows what to do with. The Applicant’s Responses does not address this.
The Applicant feels they have satisfactorily addressed the bio-diversity and
wildlife/ecological/ bird damage issues (Impact on Wildlife). But see Waterfall, Part 1 and 2, for a section by section rebuttal.
Dorset National Parks are at present increasing their proposed area of National Parks from
the county’s south coast northwards to Sherborne. With the encouragement of the Prime
Minister’s latest commitment to protect 30% of land, the climate for preserving what is
worth preserving is overtaking destructive actions on our countryside.
As has been said in many of the objections, this is a valley famous for its beauty, its rural
peacefulness, its literary and artistic context, its bio-diversity of flora and fauna. The
landscape of this and the surrounding countryside is second to none (Gates document,
Landscape). It is enjoyed by residents, visitors, cyclists, walkers, horse riders, tourists,
painters and writers. It is an educational and recreational resource for our primary school
children. It is, contrary to what the Applicant says, overlooked by ancient ridge ways
comprising AONB (Gates, Landscape; Photographs). Amongst the cultural heritage sites in
this area, stands the graceful Leweston Manor (incorrectly referred to by the Applicant as St Anthony’s Convent). This is a Grade 1 listed building with an extremely important Grade 1
formal garden, designed in the early 20th century by Thomas Mawson, famed landscape
gardener (Parks and Gardens, Leweston). The house and gardens are designed to look over this valley and in the winter the proposed vast site of shining metal arrays will be seen
clearly through the trees from Mawson’s ha-ha.
4. The Applicant’s Responses have not addressed correctly the tourist value of this valley.
Dorset is known nationally and internationally for its varied countryside. There are B&Bs on
the edge of this valley, in some cases tourists can walk directly into it from their lodging.
They come for the famous south-west coastal walks, the beaches, woodland walks, the
south west Ridgeway, Macmillan’s Way; there are Ways all over Dorset, including across this valley. They come with a bike or on foot, with personal goals to tread ancient walk ways to the coastal sea path via our valley, or they come via the swathe of hills and valleys of Eggardon Heath to the upper hills north of Sherborne, or to Bulbarrow to the East, all
through the proposed site for PV solar panels. The Applicant’s Responses have disregarded
the history and culture of this valued valley. It is not just a Thomas Hardy vista
(descriptions of valleys to be found in all his novels); the landscape has been a source of
artistic inspiration attracting visiting artists to include John Constable, Paul Nash and
Frederick Whitehead, the latter was encouraged by Hardy to paint the landscape during
summer visits. Other painters, whose works of Dorset landscape and rural life are
synonymous with the landscape, are Joseph Benwell Clark, Henry Lamb, Frances Newberry,
Eustace Nash, Lionel Edwards. Eric Ravilious, World War ll artist, painted the landscape of
Dorset, including the Giant on Cerne Hill; his paintings brought out more than any other
artist the humanity and spirit of the county. More recently, Marzia Colonna prides herself
on the Dorset landscape as inspiration for her works, and latterly, David Inshaw’s respected
paintings of Dorset landscapes hang in the Tate. These artists sought out the Dorset
landscape, and this valley is representative of what they found (see below F. Whitehead,
looking down to the valley). The Applicant’s Responses have disregarded the history and
culture of this pastoral land at Higher Stockwood. I would argue that the huge quantity of
PV arrays scheme will significantly reduce the attraction of this area, causing tourists, artists and the like, to seek out other original landscapes.
5. I refer to Voltalia as a trading company (Pinney, pp.6-8). Mr Pinney raises serious concerns with the company’s motivation and trading practices including de-commissioning of the panels. In conjunction, see Waterfall, Part 1, Response D. Voltalia has 15 employees who could not possibly develop and maintain the promised ‘new’ bits of land with boxes for
every kind of bird, owl and dormouse over the years. The Applicant says, ‘the resultant
ecology will become a HAVEN for a range of invertebrates, reptiles, amphibians, small
mammals and birds.’ It is a haven now for these creatures. It is a haven of 150 acres. It will
not be a haven in like-manner again. These are misspoken emotive words. We know once
fauna (and flora) are disrupted, it will be years before they return, if they do. Voltalia will
not be there to oversee the growth and specialised pruning of hedgerows. They will not be
there to manage the ground and to infill with seed. There is no transparency in the
Applicant’s Responses as to who is responsible for the management of the eco-system over the years of the life of these PV arrays. And most importantly they surely will not be there at the end of the course. This is a small French company working in England with large debts, underpinned by a larger French company who will likely withdraw its support and lookelsewhere in Europe for profit.
I disagree with the re-cycling responses of the Applicant. The evidence across the world
shows that re-cycling PV panels is a problem not yet addressed, in part because we have not had to face it. The Applicant’s Responses take no serious responsibility (Pinney, Recycling).
Science moves a pace. The jury is out on the benefits of solar panels versus their potential
destruction of the environment. They will surely be superseded soon by other energy
sources which do not rely on ground foundations. By then though, our wonderful valley, a
part of the wider Dorset landscape, now a productive and beautiful landscape humming
with activity benefitting people and flora and fauna, will have become a dull wrecked area,
good for nothing and nobody.
I would note that the landowner, financial beneficiary of the proposed installation, appears
to have made no gesture towards the local community who are radically affected by this
scheme. Indeed, the map shows that he has chosen not to have the panels in the
immediate fields to his farmhouse.
With reference to the leaflet drop: I emailed for project information and never got a reply. I
rang Voltalia and after persisting, I received vague information with a promise for a further
conversation which didn’t happen. The customer service information was disingenuous, as I
was told the megawattage but not the acreage which they claimed they did not know. I live
at Beer Hackett at the western side of the valley and did not get a leaflet nor was I notified
of the public meetings by Voltalia. Yet our village and other villages are all impacted by this
application. I have read the Applicant’s lengthy response to the public’s objections, and I
noticed, particularly in the wildlife statement, that much of the language and jargon, has
been cut and pasted from other documents on wildlife impact on the internet.
In conclusion, Voltalia is a French company, whose credentials Mr Pinney has exposed. We
face the uncertainty of Brexit and the on-going pandemic; these are challenging times to
commit to such a critical and important issue, impacting on many different levels of UK
future policy and having a lasting and irreversible effect on the Dorset country side.
6. I am confident that Dorset County Planning Department having reflected and evaluated the
arguments will conclude that this planning application should be refused.
Mrs Belinda Wingfield Digby
Frederick Whitehead (1885) (courtesy of Dorset County Museum, Dorchester, The Fredek