‘There are none so blind as they that will not see!’
Long before the North Dairy Farm Application was submitted, the Council Planning Officers wrote to the developer, saying that the proposed site is in a ‘highly valued landscape’, in the setting of the AONB (a nationally designated area with the highest level of legal protection in England), within the impact zones of the Blackmoor Vale Commons and Moors Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), the Rooksmoor Copse Special Area of Conservation (SAC), and the Alner Gorse Butterfly Reserve. They highlighted that the Site impacts the settings of two highly protected Conservation Areas, including some 50 listed buildings and heritage assets. It is also in an area of undulating ground, where solar development should be avoided. The Council had identified the proposed site as being in a ‘valued landscape’, highly sensitive to large-scale solar development. It is also in an area which is being considered as a National Park.
Despite the Council’s clear technical description of the area, the developers publicly presented a somewhat different assessment, saying in 2020: “On this particular site we are not impacting on any protected landscape, heritage or ecological designations” and are “not too impacted by flooding or visual impact.”
What led the Applicant to express quite different views, to those outlined by the Council? Well, in part, the conclusions presented to them in three key assessments and reports they had commissioned to support their planning application. They were the Landscape and Visual Impact Assessment (LIVA), the Heritage Assessment (HA) and the Flood Risk Assessment (FRA). As a result of the expert Officer’s consultation responses and the Save Hardy’s Vale group representations, it was established that all three assessments significantly underestimated the impact and harm the 190-acre solar proposal would cause to the area.
The Council refused to grant planning permission for a smaller (43-acre) solar development at Cruxton Farm because of the “huge” impact the industrial solar energy infrastructure would have on the surrounding landscape of the AONB.
North Dairy Farm is also within a landscape designated by the Local Authority as “valuable” and is in the ‘setting’ of the Dorset Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, where ‘valued landscapes’ must also be “protected and enhanced”.
The AONB Unit note: “Where visible from the AONB, the surrounding landscape, which is often of significant landscape value, is an important element of the AONB’s natural beauty. Relevant local planning authorities must have regard for the landscape and visual impact of major development adjacent to or within close proximity of the AONB’s boundary.”
“Where the landscapes and landforms link and, visually or functionally, join the
surroundings to the AONB, proposals for change in the setting should have regard to the inter-relationship with the AONB and the landscape character and qualities.”
If a 43-acre industrial development is considered to have a “HUGE” impact on the landscape, what word should be used to describe the harm caused to a ‘valued landscape’ by something over four times bigger?
So, with tongue in cheek, and to help the Spetisbury Parishioner, who, according to the Daily Mail, recently considered it quite possible to hide a 190-acre solar power station behind a hedge, in a “dip in the landscape” – we offer this nautical comparison:
A 190-acre solar power development site, with 37 three-metre high-security camera posts, a small town’s worth of inverter and transformer cabins, and an electricity substation, surrounded by an impenetrable security fence, would cover an area of productive farmland equivalent to 47 and a half Queen Elizabeth Class Aircraft carrier flight decks! The deck in the image represent just 4 of the solar power station’s 190 acres.
If you really do know of an effective way to hide the deck of one of the Royal Navy’s carrier strike group ships behind a hedge, or in a “dip”, then the Admiralty camouflage department would love to hear from you!
As Horatio said “I have only one eye. I have a right to be blind sometimes”