A Lady of the Vale

Writes her objections clearly, in plain English to Dorset Council

The wrong time? – and definitely in the wrong place! Increasing the amount of energy from renewable and low carbon technologies is helping to make sure the UK has a secure energy supply and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to slow down climate change. Planning has an important role in the delivery of new renewable and low carbon energy infrastructure in locations where the local environmental impact is acceptable – Hardy’s Vale is not an environmentally acceptable location.

“There is a balance to strike between the need to secure our energy future while preserving the UK’s natural environment for future generations.” Offshore wind is an important clean energy source for the UK, and can provide a considerable source of ‘home-grown’ energy with minimal CO2 emissions. The energy produced is also significantly cheaper per kW than solar.

BNPS Pictured: The area which will be covered by the solar farm if the plans go ahead. Plans to build a huge solar power farm over the landscape that inspired author Thomas Hardy have been met with growing opposition. The industrial-sized plant would see some 150,000 panels cover 190 acres of Dorset countryside.

North Dorset may be sparsely populated but, fortunately the community cares for our environment. Here is one letter to Dorset Council that will be endorsed by so many in ‘Hardy’s Vale’.

Dear Mr McFarlane,

Planning Application P/FUL/2021/01018

I am writing to OBJECT in the strongest terms to the proposed solar installation between Mappowder and Hazelbury Bryan. I am a resident of Mappowder and am deeply concerned that if this development were to go ahead it would bring significant harms to the local communities and degrade the very environment which the production of green energy is intended to protect.

I fully support our national strategy to generate sustainable energy, but the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) lays out the required balancing act well in stating that “all communities have a responsibility to help increase the use and supply of green energy, but this does not mean that the need for renewable energy automatically overrides environmental protections and the planning concerns of the local community”.

  1. Adverse change to the landscape character of the area:

The vast scale of the development will have a significant impact on the existing landscape character, multiple listed building and two conservation areas. The current visibility of a continuous network of rolling fields surrounding the local villages will be lost, and in its place huge-scale and incongruous industrial elements will be introduced thereby creating significant adverse changes in the overall landscape character. The site would become an out of character and dominant feature within the scene, visible from multiple vantage points from Hazelbury Bryan, the roads and many paths and bridleways through and adjacent to the site and from all the points of higher ground surrounding the site including several vantage points in the AONB (the site being in the setting of the nationally protected area).

This is a highly valued landscape locally and even internationally given its historical artistic associations, arguably defined as a Heritage Asset. The proposal, with its attempted mitigations which cannot possibly effectively ameliorate the impact of an installation of this size, does not protect this valued landscape in any way and should be rejected.

2. Environmental and ecological damage:

The dismissive assessment of this land as low grade as if it has no worth is disputed, given that it shares the characteristics of other local parcels of land which support successful farming businesses, particularly in organic dairy. It may be a convenient justification by the Applicant for change of use of this land, but it ignores that the land is already productive and biodiverse, currently supporting abundant and undisturbed wildlife. The mitigations proposed for improving that biodiversity are just not credible: the proposals to improve the soil are no more than any reasonable local farmer will be doing (particularly in the light of the three new schemes which will reward environmental land management under the Government’s new Environmental Land Management Scheme), and a few bird boxes and escape holes in the security fencing will do little to keep the existing wildlife undisturbed and in situ. Scattering some wild bird seed will not easily establish the meadow-like conditions pictured in the Applicant’s leaflet; a more realistic version of the land post-installation can be seen on the Applicant’s website where photographs of all 15 installations in their portfolio reveal landscapes of patch grass strips alternating with bare soil.

The claims for the level of CO2 saved by the scheme are also disingenuous: no account seems to be taken in any calculations of the huge amount of ancillary carbon involved in the creation of the installation. Solar has huge dependency on fossil fuels and extracted elements through the manufacturing process of panels, fencing and concrete, transportation (often from Asia), creation of access road, sub-station and the foundations on the site itself. If we had an unbiased calculation of this project’s actual energy returned to society versus the energy invested to get that energy, it would be assessed as an ecological and environmental white elephant. That is even before considering the impact on an already stressed area when it comes to flooding.

Climate change is likely to bring us increased periods of heavy rainfall on land which already floods to the point of cutting off villages. Others will comment on the specifics of the acreage covered by hard footings, road and so on which will be totally lost to rainwater absorption and the likely impact of concentrated run-off from so many panels. I will merely urge you to look much deeper into this than the Applicant’s cavalier assessment of flood risk which appears to rely on data from completely non-comparable examples.

3. Community harm by association:

Solar Energy UK recently made a statement that it condemned “any abuse of human rights, including forced labour, anywhere in the global solar energy supply chain” and that they “support applying the highest possible levels of transparency and sustainability throughout the value chain”, co-signed by the UK’s main solar energy companies including the Applicant. There is not one word from the Applicant on modern slavery in this application despite their claims of transparency, when they should be able to provide details of steps they have taken to track the origin of source materials in the production, processing and distribution processes of the products and what controls they have in place to prevent forced labour in their supply chains as required in the Modern Slavery Act. There are recent reports in the national press that the government is carrying out a thorough investigation of the well-researched allegations of forced labour in solar panel supply chains. I would strongly suggest Dorset Council demands this information ahead of any planning decision.

4. Impact on local communities:

As the NPPF notes, the planning concerns of the local community cannot simply be overridden to meet the need for renewable energy. There is a very strong message being given by local communities that they do not want this vast solar plant in the proposed location – not one local parish council/meeting has supported the application as proposed; Mappowder residents in a recent poll conducted by the parish meeting responded with 100% objections; and the comments coming in on your website speak for themselves with the vast majority of respondents opposed in their comments (whether or not they have been accurately recorded as Objections by the North Dorset administration). This level of vocal opposition is impressive and a measure of the strength of feeling especially given the poor levels of consultation by the Applicant, who in Mappowder’s case conducted only one zoom webinar for the community, delivered one leaflet containing minimal information and then offered zero engagement with the community for the next six months despite having had overwhelming negative feedback. They have not sought views, they have not listened.

As residents of these small, rural communities we have few resources at our disposal and are dependent on Dorset Council to listen to our concerns and give us a fair hearing as a matter of natural justice. That is the Council’s duty. It must ask itself during this process, whether it is fair and proportionate to make these communities bear so much harm with such paltry gain. Indeed the only likely gain I can see for the residents of Mappowder, Pulham and Hazelbury Bryan is the possibility that some of the site workers might stay in local B&Bs during the construction phase. There are no permanent employment benefits, no guarantees of any economic benefits, no advantage in terms of access to green energy and no increase in local amenity – only downside for the life of the installation.

Can this really be an equitable way to treat Dorset residents when a more reasonable and moderate proposal could deliver sustainable energy gains for others in the county without degrading the environment and landscape locally? Other, more suitable sites exist within Dorset which would meet planning policy requirements to use brownfield sites and other compromised locations. Dorset Council, although required to do so by national policy, has not yet identified those sites which would be suitable for solar development. It needs to do this urgently before approving large-scaleapplications.

At the very least, consider a limit for this site of one third of the size proposed. This would still be sizeable at around 17MW and larger than 70% of the Applicant’s current portfolio of installations, but given the topography it could be configured to be much less visible and harmful to the locality and would be a vastly more proportionate outcome for everyone.

Please take these objections seriously. There is an opportunity here to achieve sustainable energy production without so much local harm, so I place my faith in the planning department and Dorset Council to balance interests fairly.

Yours sincerely,

Maria

Mappowder

© 2021

One thought on “A Lady of the Vale

  1. An excellent response to this appalling application. Remember this land would be lost to agriculture since it is impossible to graze any animals under the panels, including sheep, as there is usually no grass due to no sun or rain.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: