‘There are none so blind as they that will not see!’
If a 43-acre industrial development is considered by Dorset Council to have a “HUGE” impact on the landscape, what word should they use to describe the harm caused to a ‘highly valued landscape’ and the setting of the Dorset Area of Outstanding Beauty (AONB) by something over four times bigger?
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.”
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:
47 and a half flight decks!
A 190-acre solar power development site, with 37 three-metrehigh-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”
France to require all large car parks to be covered by solar panels
Legislation approved by Senate will apply to existing and new car parks with space for at least 80 vehicles
Alex Lawson Energy correspondent Wed 9 Nov 2022 18.08 GMT
All large car parks in France will be covered by solar panels under new legislation approved as part of President Emmanuel Macron’s renewable energy drive.
Legislation approved by the French Senate this week requires existing and new car parks with space for at least 80 vehicles to be covered by solar panels.
The owners of car parks with between 80 and 400 spaces have five years to comply with the measures, while operators of those with more than 400 will have just three years. At least half of the area of the larger sites must be covered by solar panels.
The French government believes the measure could generate up to 11 gigawatts of power.
Politicians had originally applied the bill to car parks larger than 2,500 sq metres before deciding to opt for car parking spaces.
French politicians are also examining proposals to build large solar farms on empty land by motorways and railways as well as on farmland.
The sight of parked cars under the shade of solar panels is not unfamiliar in France. Renewables Infrastructure Group, one of the UK’s largest specialist green energy investors, has invested in a large solar car park in Borgo on Corsica.
Macron has thrown his weight behind nuclear energy over the past year and in September announced plans to boost France’s renewable energy industry. He visited the country’s first offshore wind farm off the port of Saint-Nazaire off the west coast and hopes to speed up the build times of windfarms and solar parks.
The move comes as European nations examine their domestic energy supplies in the fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Technical problems and maintenance on the powerhouse French nuclear fleet have exacerbated the problem while the national operator EDF was forced to cut its output in the summer when French rivers became too warm.
The government has also launched a communication campaign, “Every gesture counts”, encouraging individuals and industry to cut their energy usage, and the Eiffel Tower lights are being turned off more than an hour earlier.
The French government plans to spend €45bn shielding households and businesses from energy price shocks.
Separately on Wednesday, ScottishPower announced it would increase its five-year investment target by £400m to £10.4bn by 2025. The UK solar and wind farm developer hopes to generate 1,000 jobs in the next 12 months.
All that natural light flowing through your windows may one day do much more than brighten your mood.
Scientists in Switzerland have reached a new efficiency record for transparent solar cells, paving the way for electricity-generating windows that could help power our homes and devices.
Also known as Grätzel cells, dye-sensitised solar cells (DSCs) are a type of low-cost solar cell that uses photosensitised dye attached to the surface of a semiconductor to convert visible light into energy.
The previous versions of DSCs were largely reliant on direct sunlight, but scientists at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) have found a way to make transparent photosensitisers – molecules that can be activated by light – that can “adsorb” light across the entire visible light spectrum.
“Our findings pave the way for facile access to high-performance DSCs and offer promising prospects for applications as power supply and battery replacement for low-power electronic devices that use ambient light as their energy source,” wrote the authors of the study, published in the scientific journal Nature.
Transparent solar panels
DSCs are transparent, flexible, and can be manufactured in a wide range of colours for a relatively low cost. These see-through solar panels are already being used in skylights, greenhouses, and glass facades.
In 2012, the SwissTech Convention Center became the first application of DSCs technology in a public building.
In 2017, the Copenhagen International School inaugurated its new building covered by approximately 12,000 blue-hued but transparent solar panels that use the same DSC technology.
They provide around 300-megawatt hours (MWh) of electricity per year, meeting over half of the school’s annual energy needs.
See-through solar tech with 30% efficiency
But despite the fact that energy-generating windows have been on the market for a number of years, one recurring complaint was their limited capacity for generating electricity when compared to traditional solar cells.
The new breakthrough from the team at EPFL could soon help overcome that barrier.
Thanks to a new molecule design, they have increased the power conversion efficiency of DSCs – in other words, the share of the solar energy shining on them that is converted into usable electricity – reaching beyond 15 per cent in direct sunlight and up to 30 per cent in ambient light conditions.
For reference, commercial solar panels currently have an average efficiency of around 20 per cent.
The new generation DSCs also demonstrated “long-term operational stability” of at least 500 hours.
Materials that convert sunlight into electrical energy have a huge potential to fulfil the planet’s increasing need for cost-effective renewable energy technologies.
Glass windows hold an especially massive potential: Imagine if entire skyscrapers could be turned into vertical solar farms?
Back in 2017, a team at Michigan State University that developed a new type of solar concentrator creating solar energy when placed over a window deemed that transparent solar technologies could supply around 40 per cent of energy demand in the United States.
It estimated that if combined with rooftop solar units – and the right storage technology – that share could rise to almost 100 per cent.
In Europe, solar power accounted for 12.2 per cent of the electricity generated in the EU this summer, the highest share on record.
Based on current trends, it has the potential to meet up to 20 per cent of the EU’s electricity demand by 2040, according to the.
Most of the planet’s solar energy currently goes uncaptured. What would things look like if every window around us could harvest it?
“The worst thing we can do is alienate communities”
The local community has made very clear to the Dorset Council that North Dairy Farm’s proposed solar development would be in the wrong place. The planners have received over 260 letters pointing out why the proposed site is unsuitable for solar.
Some 40 farming families, almost all of whom are actively supporting the transition to low carbon working, who understand and have shaped the Dorset landscape, have made it clear why the ‘Vale of the little dairies’ is such an inappropriate location for solar development.
In her comments of 25/03/2022 Helen Lilley, The Council’s Landscape Architect noted that “at 77ha the proposed development would be one of the largest solar PV developments in the southwest” and that the proposed development “would result in a significant change in the character of the local landscape and would also adversely affect the setting of the AONB, most particularly given the interrelationship between the clay/rolling vale character of the local landscape that the site is located in, and the chalk escarpment landscape of the AONB”.
She also noted that “there would be significant adverse effects on views from Rights of Way to the east of the site, most especially where these extend across the site to Dungeon Hill Scheduled Ancient Monument/the AONB to the west”.
She stated that in her opinion the proposals did not comply with the requirements of paragraphs 154 and 170 of the NPPF (now 158 and 174 of the NPPF 2021) or policies 3, 4, and 22 of the North Dorset Local Plan and that as a consequence she could not support the application.
The high sunshine and low rainfall of the Dorset’s coastal areas (480mm pa) are very different from the high escarpments surrounding the Blackmore Vale, where 1400 mm pa falls and rapidly drains around the proposed solar site. Because of its special (wet) climate and ground conditions, the area is home to some of the UK’s most successful organic dairy farms.
The Prime Minister, in his COP 27 Statement to the House of Commons today said: “Our track record on renewable energy is superb” ( as is Dorset Council’s record ). He noted: “zero-carbon energy now accounts for half of our electricity needs. We are poised to do more. Offshore wind is the thing we are focusing on” and “We are now a world leader in offshore wind, which is providing cheap forms of electricity and energy for households up and down the country.
Community support is vital
For onshore energy developments, the PM said: “It is right that we bring people with us as we transition to net zero. The worst thing we can do is alienate communities if we want to actually deliver on our climate commitments. As it turns out, we are lucky to have a very reliable and very affordable form of energy in offshore wind, which is also creating jobs domestically in the UK. It is right that that is our priority”.
“The worst thing we can do is alienate communities”
‘North Dairy Farm is in a unique location – shaped by Dorset’s record rainfall’
Cabinet Office minister Oliver Dowden has confirmed that rules that require local consent on planning would stay in place as it was important to strike the right balance between “recognising local feeling” and investing in renewable energy offshore.
The proposed site is ‘technically’ unsuitable for solar development and would not comply with the requirements of paragraphs 154 and 170 of the NPPF (now 158 and 174 of the NPPF 2021) or policies 3, 4, and 22 of the North Dorset Local Plan
In keeping with the requirements of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), Dorset Council’s Flood Risk Management Officer states: .”Regardless of prevailing risk, development, through the introduction of impermeable areas, has the potential to exacerbate or create flood risk“. North Dairy Farm is in a unique location – shaped by Dorset’s record rainfall – and the area floods!
Three times as much rain
The lowland coastal areas are the sunniest parts of Dorset. While Bournemouth records well below the national average in annual rainfall (483 mm) the North Dorset Downs experience lower temperatures and more precipitation than the coast. Approximately three times as much rain (1500 mm pa) falls on the high ground and escarpments above Hardy’s Vale overlooking North Dairy Farm.
Southern England is one of the more sheltered parts of the UK, the windiest areas being in western and northern Britain, closer to the Atlantic. The Met Office predicts that within 40 years the average warmest summer day in the southwest will increase by 3 °C to 31 °C. It predicts that the region will have one of the highest annual temperatures in the United Kingdom and there will be an estimated 53 millimetres (2.1 in) increase in winter precipitation.
On the high ground!
Altitude affects rainfall. Moist air ascending the Dorset Downs may be cooled below the dew point to produce clouds and rain. A map of average annual rainfall, therefore, looks similar to the topographic map below.
The wettest areas in Southern England are the higher parts of Dorset and the South Downs, with an average of over 950 mm per year. While Dorset’s annual average precipitation is 483 mm, areas of the North Dorset Downs and escarpments can receive over 1400 mm.
Saturated for six months
The periods of prolonged rainfall frequently lead to widespread flooding, especially in winter and early spring. The Applicants soil survey notes that the North Dairy Farm ground is saturated for six months a year.
(Fig. below, annual rainfall is shown in shades of purple) The 42 square kilometre catchments focus their flows around and over the farm site. They combine a few meters north of it, eventually, joining the River Stour.
Dorset’s intense precipitation events
Whereas the Spetisbury solar development is on dry freely draining chalk land, the North Dairy Farm proposed site is mainly covered with impervious clay, and unlike Spetisbury, almost surrounded to the south by the high downs and escarpments.
Averages don’t tell the story!
The threefold increase in the rainfall averages between the coastal areas and the ground above the Blackmore Vale is significant and has created and shaped the ‘Vale of the little dairies’. Rain can fall in very destructive ‘rapid discharge’ events that give the Vale its distinctive farming landscape and often dictate the position of its field boundaries. It is remarkable how little the field shapes around the farm have changed since the post-middle ages, thanks, in part, to the area’s multitude of natural waterways.
The Applicant suggests that significant changes to the fields have taken place since 1888 and that the fields “generally have lost their historic hedge field boundaries”. This is misleading and inaccurate – see 1888 map (left) and 2022 (right). They are almost unchanged.
Dorset holds the UK record!
High-intensity rainfall also results in flooding. The thunderstorms that broke out during the afternoon and evening of 18 July 1955 resulted in a remarkable 279.4 mm rainfall at Martinstown – the highest daily rainfall ever recorded in the UK.
Government organisations predict Dorset and the south will experience a rise in temperature and become the hottest region in the United Kingdom. This will increase the frequency of summer thunderstorms and intense rainfall events. The biggest increases are predicted to occur over Dorset and northwest England.
Peculiar and unique
North Dairy Farm is hydrologically unique. The Hydro-GIS Review and the SHV representations point out that the Cook and McCuen findings cannot be relied on where the land has very low rates of infiltration, is saturated for six months a year and is at the focus of two catchments that have exceptionally high levels of intense rainfall, and ground subject to rapid discharge flash flooding.
Energy ten times greater than rainfall
Cook and McCuen determined that the kinetic energy of the water draining from the solar panels could be as much as 10 times greater than the rainfall. Factor in the predicted increased rainfall intensity due to climate change (more rain falling in a shorter time – more often) to the ‘high energy’ water draining from the panels, and it is possible (as Natural England and the Council’s Flood Risk Management Team suggest) that soil below the base of the solar panels could erode. According to the Cook and McCuen modelling, this would result in high rates of, possibly channelised surface runoff, flowing over saturated ground that has a very low infiltration rate. Most importantly, this would result in shorter times to peak flow, and importantly, as Cook and McCuen’s results imply, increased downstream flooding.
100% increase in runoff
The Cook and McCuen modelling also assumes situations with healthy grass beneath the panels, and bare ground in the spacer section, which: “would simulate the condition of unmaintained grass and soil compaction resulting from regular maintenance vehicles driving over the spacer section. In these conditions, the peak discharge increased by 100%, which reflected both the increases in volume and a decrease in timing.” This condition is illustrated in the British Solar Renewables image above.
Evidence of flooding ignored
The North Dairy Farm Solar Flood Risk Assessment was undertaken for the Applicant by RMA Environmental in 2021. It noted: there is not sufficient data of historic flooding to make a fully informed judgement as to whether this area would be at a significantly increased risk from runoff from the solar park”. This statement is misleading. Representations to Dorset Council from one (among others) downstream riparian owner stated: “Old Boywood Farm has been owned by our family since the early 1900s. We have data and photographic evidence available spanning the last 58 years.” It appears the Applicants have ignored the offers of flooding evidence.
Infiltration will not work
Following the SHV representations about flooding and surface runoff, and the comments by the Council’s Flood Risk Management Team, the Applicant finally dropped the “no drainage needed” claim and proposed an infiltration-based system incorporating swales. However, they appear to have ignored the clear warning in their RMA ‘Flood Risk Assessment’ (FRA), paragraph 4.33, that: “The reported hydrological characteristics of the Site suggest that infiltration may not be feasible”.
Creating flood risk
The Council’s Flood Risk Management Officer (Chris Osborne) noted:
“Regardless of prevailing risk, development, through the introduction of impermeable areas, has the potential to exacerbate or create flood risk“
In keeping with the requirements of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), all major development proposals must take due consideration of stormwater management and should offer a drainage strategy that does not create or exacerbate off-site worsening and should mitigate flood risk to the site.”
“Whilst Dorset Council Flood Risk Management have some expertise with respect to hydrology, we are not hydrologists and I have not undertaken an academic literature search on this topic“.
PV panels “can, however, cause erosion, hence Sustainable Drainage Systems can be useful for storing flow to prevent turbid runoff from discharging into the natural environment.“
Natural England also notes: “Concentrated runoff from the panels is likely to lead to erosion of the ground surface below, contributing significantly to water quality issues downstream/downslope.“
From ‘not needed’ to essential!
The Applicant suggested from the beginning, that perfect grass would avoid the need to provide Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS) for the PV-panelled areas. They also said that undertaking soil infiltration tests would be unnecessary. It is now widely recognised that the intense rainfall events onto the saturated or flooded ground and the high kinetic energy flows from 55 acres (approximately) of impervious PV panels “has the potential to exacerbate or create flood risk.”
So, THE COUNCIL’S FLOOD RISK MANAGEMENT TEAM HAVE NOW ASKED FOR A “FINALISED AND FULLY JUSTIFIED DRAINAGE SYSTEM” TO REDUCE THE INCREASED RISK OF DOWNSTREAM FLOODING THAT THE IMPERVIOUS PANELS POSE.
As mentioned, the Flood Risk Management Team have stated that they are “not hydrologists, and have not undertaken an academic literature search on this topic“. The team has also withdrawn from providing comment as a consultee on solar developments stating: “FRM actually have withdrawn from providing comment on such schemes, since January 2022, on a risk-based approach” and need to focus limited available resources elsewhere.
Not “fair, reasonable and practicable”
In the light of the Applicant’s record of significantly underestimating the flood risks, the Councill’s lack of hydrological expertise and resource constraints, we believe it would not be safe, or meet the Government Guidance tests of being “clearly seen to be fair, reasonable and practicable”, to leave the critical matter of site run-off to be dealt with later (after a Grant of Approval) by the attachment of pre-commencement conditions.
Infiltration tests are imperative
Dorset Council’s Strategic Flood Risk Assessment states that it is “imperative that site-specific infiltration tests are conducted early on as part of the design of the development, to confirm whether the water table is low enough to allow for Sustainable Drainage System techniques designed to encourage infiltration” . Without the results of these tests, it is impossible for the Applicant to demonstrate (justify) that the “outlined” drainage system would:
Comply with the guidance, to avoid, reduce, delay and manage surface water flows
Mimic the existing greenfield surface runoff volumes, and critically
Reduce downstream flooding at the time of peak flow.
No such tests have been undertaken, therefore, granting approval would be unreasonable.
The Applicant has not ‘demonstrated’ that the existing runoff from the site will not be exceeded. Therefore, the Application is incomplete and inadequate, and granting approval would again be unreasonable.
The outcome of a planning application can be decided by Planning Committee, or be delegated for a decision by planning officers. In both cases, the decision must be based only on relevant material considerations and be ‘plan based’.
Issues that are considered relevant in planning decisions are listed below:
the local plan
development plan documents
supplementary planning documents
the statement of community involvement
the authority monitoring report
government planning guidance
the council’s corporate policies
highway safety and traffic levels
noise, disturbance and smells resulting from the proposed development
design, appearance and layout
conservation of buildings, trees and open land flood risk
the impact on the appearance of the area
the effect on the level of daylight and privacy of existing property
the need to safeguard the countryside or protected species of plant or animal
planning case law and previous decisions
the need for the development
the planning history of the site
Issues that are not considered relevant to planning decisions include:
private property rights, such as covenants
the developer’s identity, morals or motives
the effect on the value of your property
loss of a private view
private neighbour disputes
The planning balance
The planning balance is a thought exercise that the decision-maker must go through when deciding whether to give consent or not.
Is the process subjective or objective?
In that decisions must be plan based (unless there are material reasons not to) then decisions should be rational and objective, i.e. based on the expert evidence.
However, elected Councillors may also apply personal judgement, and therefore the weight they apply to material planning matters can vary. Clearly, this can pose a challenge in an open and transparent administrative process.
It is a requirement of planning law that all planning decisions are made in accordance with the provisions of the development plan (normally referred to as the ‘Local Plan’), as well as a suite of material considerations such as the National Planning Policy Framework (2012) (NPPF) and its Guidance (National Planning Policy Guidance).
The weight to be given to specific matters is often prescribed by planning law and guidance. For example, local authorities must make sure that any proposals have regard for the purpose of conserving and enhancing the natural beauty of the AONB and IT’S SETTING and that its protection is given ‘great weight’ in the planning balance.
Subjectivity refers to personal feelings, viewpoints, opinions, and biases. Subjective statements and observations express people’s preferences as well as personal interpretations about something. The quality of subjective evidence depends upon the decision makers ability to perceive reality. Unfortunately, subjective views are often inconsistent and biased. People often see what they want to see, or what they expect to see.
Objective evidence takes more effort. It must be retrieved, stored, protected, recorded, and presented. Subjective reasoning is easier – and views expressed often go untested. On the other hand, objective decisions involve facts that are provable or verifiable. Objective statements and observations don’t include people’s personal views and preferences, known as biases.
What if a decision is contrary to an officer’s recommendation:
• Councillors can come to a decision that differs from the Officer’s (professionally qualified experts) recommendation
• But it must be justified on planning grounds (based on the plan and material considerations)
• Committee must give justified planning reasons for their decision (it cannot be left to officers)
A decision-maker will open themselves up to challenge if they have failed to regard a policy in the development plan which is relevant to the application or have failed to properly interpret it.
A challenge might involve an allegation that a decision-maker was misled by the planning officer about material considerations, often due to an unclear report or advice to the council which fails to understand the important issues that bear on the decision.
The absence of a rational or logical connection between the evidence and a decision
In cases where the courts apply greater scrutiny, what the evidence says is always critical and will be the focal point for the court’s assessment. If there is an absence of a rational or logical connection between the evidence and a decision then there will be greater scope for challenge. Simply put, if the evidence says X and the decision-maker subjectively conclude Y then there is a significant risk that the decision will be unlawful because it cannot be justified or supported by the evidence. *
There is often a correlation between decisions that are irrational in the substantive sense and those decisions where there is some form of procedural flaws, such as where the decision-maker failed to take into account relevant decisions, took into account irrelevant considerations, or failed to keep an open mind during the process. These types of procedural errors alone are usually sufficient to justify the court quashing the decision being challenged. But they also provide helpful signposts for public bodies to keep in mind when giving reasons for a decision. Again, the key to reducing the risk of a decision being overturned by the courts is to avoid subjective reasoning and focus on the available evidence and ensure that it can demonstrate that everything relevant has been taken into account.
Whilst the intensity of the judicial scrutiny will depend on the context, public bodies will always be in a better position to defend a challenge if they ensure that their decision-making process is thorough and fair, the decision can be justified on the evidence and the reasons given for it are adequate. Ultimately, this is something that public bodies should be concerned about irrespective of the threat of legal challenge – after all, good decision-making is a public good in itself and something that public bodies should strive towards in all cases.
Various classifications of weight contained within the NPPF have been identified and are shown in the following hierarchy of ‘weight’ which is presented in order of importance.
* (Secretary of State for Education and Science v Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council  3 All ER 665 at 681–682 per Lord Wilberforce; Brind v Secretary of State for the Home Dept  1 All ER 720; Edwards (Inspector of Taxes) v Bairstow  3 All ER 48 at 57).
‘Lobbying councillors is a normal part of the planning process’
In a letter from the then Department for Communities and Local Government to Hilary Benn MP (2013) the Minister (Eric Pickles MP) set out the guidance to be followed by councillors. He said: ‘councillors must act solely in the public interest and should never improperly confer an advantage or disadvantage on any person or act to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves, their family, a friend or close associate.’
Champion local residents
He also noted: ‘Whilst recognising the need for due process and a fair hearing, we must also protect the right of freedom of speech to allow councillors to champion their local residents: the narrow interpretation of pre-determination rules has previously been corrosive to local democracy’.
The Local Government Association add to the guidance in ‘Probity for Planning – for councillors and officers’. The guide notes: ‘It is important that planning authorities make planning decisions openly, impartially, with sound judgement and for justifiable reasons.
The process should leave no grounds for suggesting that those participating in the decision were biased or that the decision itself was unlawful, irrational or procedurally improper.
The determination of a planning application is a formal administrative process involving the application of national and local policies, reference to legislation and case law as well as rules of procedure, rights of appeal and an expectation that people will act reasonably and fairly. All involved should remember the possibility that an aggrieved party may seek a Judicial Review and/or complain to the Ombudsman on grounds of maladministration or a breach of the authority’s code.
Lobbying of and by councillors
Lobbying is a normal part of the planning process. Those who may be affected by a planning decision, whether through an application, a site allocation in a development plan or an emerging policy, will often seek to influence it through an approach to their ward member or to a member of the planning committee.
The Nolan Committee’s 1997 report stated: “It is essential for the proper operation of the planning system that local concerns are adequately ventilated. The most effective and suitable way to do this is through the local elected representatives, the councillors themselves”.
Lobbying, however, can lead to the impartiality and integrity of a councillor being called into question, unless care and common sense are exercised by all the parties involved. It is therefore essential, when lobbying decision takers, that every council member directly involved in the planning decision process has the opportunity to receive and consider the same ‘lobby’ material.
Members of a planning committee, Local Plan steering group (or full Council when the local plan is being considered) need to avoid any appearance of bias or of having predetermined their views before taking a decision on a planning application or on planning policies.
The courts have sought to distinguish between situations which involve predetermination or bias on the one hand and predisposition on the other. The former is indicative of a ‘closed mind’ approach and likely to leave the committee’s decision susceptible to challenge by Judicial Review.
Dorset CPRE is fully supportive of renewable energy development in Dorset but not at any price.
Dorset CPRE Policy on Renewable Energy
Dorset CPRE is fully supportive of renewable energy development in Dorset but not at any price. It is opposed to proposals that would do anything other than minimal harm to Dorset’s exceptional and highly valued landscape, heritage, agricultural and amenity assets.
it is particularly opposed to industrial-scale wind turbines and ground-mounted solar photovoltaic installations that can be damaging to Dorset’s prevalent small–scale landscapes.
It supports the deployment of solar photovoltaic panels on domestic, commercial, public and industrial roofs, including those that can be built over car parks.
It favours smaller-scale ground-mounted solar photovoltaic installations with a maximum capacity of 5 MW (20,000 panels) that can be well-screened from surrounding viewpoints.
It does not object to small-scale wind turbines close to buildings.
It hopes that the Council will be successful in promoting community-owned renewable energy installations of all kinds and wishes to provide support in any way it can through its network of members across the Council area.
Report on renewable energy generation in Dorset
Dorset Council Local Plan
We submitted a report regarding Renewable Energy issues (see copy below under downloads).
Installations of National Significance
Please see the link below to the latest report on ‘Installations of National Significance & the Setting of Local Renewable Energy Targets’ dated 25th May 2022. This report concludes that it would be appropriate for Dorset Council to reintroduce the 2011 policy whereby each UK local authority was able to reduce its 2020 renewable energy target from 15% (the UK target) to 7.5%. This was decided when it was realised that if the target were to be realised the damage done to Dorset’s rural assets, particularly its landscape, would be unacceptable.
Role of Roof-Mounted Solar Photovoltaic Installations in 2050 Electricity Generation
A separate report looks at the ‘Role of Roof-Mounted Solar Photovoltaic Installations in 2050 Electricity Generation. This report explores the extent to which roof-mounted installations might be able to contribute to the achievement of 2050 targets for the deployment of solar photovoltaics. The Dynamic Dispatch Team at the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy suggests that, for the UK as a whole, the maximum contribution expected from solar photovoltaics is a capacity of 120 GW generating an annual 117.6 TWh, 17.4% of 676.8 TWh, the upper bound of expected total electricity demand.
Summaries of both reports, produced by David Peacock, are also available to download, see the link below.
The Government is encouraging the development of backup generation and battery storage in the countryside as means of increasing the electricity supply. CPRE Wiltshire has produced a booklet exploring the issues raised by planning applications to implement these processes.
Well! Not in “Good quality natural landscapes, which have a high ecological value”
Who says so?
Dorset Council says so – in their Climate and Ecological Emergency Strategy and in their planning policies.
We believe that everyone involved in considering the proposed North Dairy Farm solar development must recognise the urgent need for renewable energy as a means of helping to address the very serious ongoing consequences of climate change. But industrial solar developments must be sited in the right places.
Dorset Council were among the leading authorities when, in July 2020, they developed a draft Climate and Ecological Emergency Strategy and an initial road map which sets the direction and urgency of travel. The Council also recognised that: “critically, much of what is required will need to be led by the national government through clear policy and support programmes”. The Prime Minister recently made clear that: “On my watch, we will not lose swathes of our best farmland to solar farms”.
WELLBEING The Council has identified that: “health and wellbeing benefits are some of the largest potential gains from tackling the climate and ecological emergency”.
They note: “Good quality natural landscapes, which have a high ecological value, have also been shown to reduce stress and sadness, lift poor mood, and make us feel better, with the relationship being strongest for anxiety disorder and depression” and there is undoubtedly a positive relationship between improving biodiversity, quality of greenspace, and accessibility for health and wellbeing. They note that health benefits of green spaces have been known across the world for time immemorial”.
The Council also noted that: “In addition, we can work towards significantly improving our health and wellbeing as a result of more active travel, better diets, cleaner air, a greater connection with the natural world”.
Natural England has said about the North Dairy Farm solar development: “We accept that the proposals in themselves will, in principle, provide an environmental benefit. However, this benefit needs to be measured against any adverse impact on the natural environment in which the scheme is located”.
“We recognise that paragraphs 176 and 177 of the National Planning Policy Framework 2021 give the highest status of protection for the ‘landscape and scenic beauty of AONBs and their settings”.
“Proposals that are harmful to the character and appearance of the area will not be permitted unless there are benefits that clearly outweigh the significant protection afforded to the conservation and enhancement of the AONB”.
“It should be noted here that the availability of a connection to the grid, or grid capacity, does not in itself justify harm to the natural beauty of the AONB.”
So, the Council (and Natural England) are clear that industrial solar should not be developed within “Good quality natural landscapes, which have a high ecological value” – such as Hardy’s Vale.
LOOKING BACK Thomas Hardy’s novels often come with a map of the writer’s Wessex, complete with all his renamed towns and villages. Far less well-known – but vastly more interesting to me at least – is the rough-and-ready sketch map of ‘Tess’s Country’ that Hardy drew as he was preparing to write Tess of the d’Urbervilles.
It was published in Harper’s magazine in 1925, three years before Hardy died. Dorset’s most famous literary son knew North Dorset well, of course, not least because he lived at Riverside, Sturminster Newton, for two years, and wrote The Return of the Native during that period.
The first thing that jumps out at me from the map is the oval-shaped dotted line surrounding the words ‘Vale of Blackmoor’. Most people today, of course – including the editor of this magazine – spell it ‘Blackmore’, but it’s interesting that Hardy was originally thinking of this alternative version.
By the time Tess was published in 1891, he had adopted the third option, and hedged his bets, writing in the opening sentences of both chapters one and two of the ‘Vale of Blakemore or Blackmoor’. This suggests that in Hardy’s time or earlier, some people might have pronounced it ‘Blakemore’.
The only Blackmore Vale town or village that appears on the map is Marlott, but unlike most of the other locations further afield, Hardy doesn’t bother to add its real name, Marnhull. Marlott also appears in the novel’s opening sentence as Hardy describes John Durbeyfield’s walk to his home in the village following his weekly visit to the market at Shaston (Shaftesbury), which also appears on the map. Semley Station on the South Western Railway, which served Shaftesbury and appears in Jude the Obscure, is one of two stations on the map, the other being London Waterloo. It’s during his journey home from Shaston that Durbeyfield meets the antiquary Parson Tringham, who sows misplaced ideas of grandeur in his head by calling him ‘Sir John’ and alleging his descent from Sir Pagan d’Urberville, who came over with William the Conqueror. The suggestion sets in motion a tragic train of events that culminates in the ill-fated Tess Durbeyfield’s execution at Wintoncester (Winchester). As elsewhere, Hardy used real buildings in his descriptions of Marlott, including Durbeyfield’s local, Rolliver’s (thought to be based on the Blackmore Vale Inn) and the Pure Drop (the Crown), which according to John offered a ‘very pretty brew’. Identification of the Durbeyfields’ cottage is more challenging.
In Thomas Hardy’s Wessex, published in 1913, Herman Lea said the ‘the old cottage in which Tess was imagined to have been born appeared to have been swept away. In the introduction, Lea thanked Hardy for correcting a few place identifications. This is contradicted by later sources, which claim that Hardy identified ‘Tess’s Cottage’ during a visit to Marnhull in later life.
Other places on Hardy’s map include Emminster (Beaminster), the home town of Tess’s husband, Angel Clare; Flintcomb-Ash (Plush), which he calls a ‘farm near Nettlecombe Tout’; Shottsford (Blandford); Trantridge (Pentridge), home of the Stoke d’Urbervilles and Tess’s seducer and rapist Alec d’Urberville; nearby Chaseborough (Cranborne), where Tess waits for her friends at the Fleur-deLuce, which in real life has happily regained its traditional name the Fleur de Lys; and Melchester (Salisbury), where Angel and the fugitive Tess pass over ‘town bridge’, based on St Nicholas Bridge, built in 1245
To the south of Dorset, Hardy creates a smaller dotted shape enclosing the words ‘Valley of the Frome (Froom)’, which he also calls the ‘Valley of the Great Dairies’, in contrast to the Vale of Blackmoor, which is the ‘Vale of Little Dairies’. Close to the River Frome are Wellbridge (Woolbridge Manor), which once belonged to the d’Urbervilles and where Tess and Angel stay after their marriage, and the ‘half-dead townlet of Kingsbere’ (Bere Regis), where the similarly named Turbervilles were lords of the manor for 500 years. Casterbridge (Dorchester) and Budmouth (Weymouth), which commonly feature in Hardy’s work, are also shown, as is Sandbourne (Bournemouth), which in Hardy’s lifetime had grown at a breakneck pace to become a ‘fashionable watering place’. It’s at Sandbourne that Tess effectively seals her fate by murdering Alec d’Urberville with a carving knife following the unexpected return of her beloved Angel Clare.
At present, the collection (which consists of more than 150 boxes of material including diaries, photographs, letters, books, architectural plans and poetry), is almost invisible to the wider world. The archive contains such items as the manuscript of The Mayor of Casterbridge, correspondence to Hardy from TE Lawrence and Siegfried Sassoon, and the plans for Max Gate. Dorset History Centre is keen to unlock this fantastic resource by creating a free online catalogue for all to access. DHC estimates that it will take around 18 months to complete the task. Once done, Hardy’s archives – the bedrock of any research into the author, his life and work – will be permanently discoverable online. Anyone can then come to the History Centre to view the physical collection. The archive is a true jewel in Dorset’s heritage crown and deserves to be recognised and celebrated as such. The project will require £60,000, and DAT has started a crowdfunding campaign in support of this. Anyone wishing to contribute can do so by going to: