Yesterday (28 June) the High Court of Justice quashed planning permission for the proposed Mapperton Solar Park on land owned by South Dorset MP Richard Drax.
This decision is the result of Katharine Butler’s successful application for a Judicial Review of East Dorset District Council’s decision to grant permission for a mega solar farm to be sited on good arable land amongst highly valued heritage assets in an Area of Great Landscape Value. She was supported by the Mapperton Preservation Group (MPG) and the Dorset branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE).
Deputy High Court Judge Rhodri Lewis Price QC agreed with Katharine Butler that East Dorset’s Planning Committee was seriously misled by the Officers’ Report which recommended permission be granted. The report admitted that the proposal would do harm to heritage assets but failed to point out that, if this was the case, this would not comply with policies in the Local Plan. The judge has refused appeal.
In a joint statement Katharine Butler, the Mapperton Preservation Group and Dorset CPRE said, “Over 700 objections were sent to East Dorset District Council last year to protest at what would have been, if built, the second largest solar farm park in Dorset, saying it represented damaging industrialisation of the beautiful countryside here. This was the largest protest ever mounted against a solar installation application in Dorset. The revised proposal came after Good Energy Limited were forced to withdraw an earlier application in the face of a successful legal challenge. The solar park would have covered 106 acres with 90,000 solar PV panels. Local residents formed the Mapperton Preservation Group to object.”
Katharine Butler added: “We would not have objected to a solar farm of 40 acres, but it is inappropriate to site an industrially sized project in an Area of Great Landscape Value. The developer is clearly more persuaded by the commercial rather than the environmental arguments.”
Ironically one of the key objections was the adverse impact on the setting and views from Grade II listed Charborough Park, which is owned by Drax. Pevsner, the acclaimed architectural historian, described the landscaped park as “the most splendid in Dorset”. Grade II Charborough Tower, which featured in Thomas Hardy’s ‘Two on a Tower’, would have been affected too. Rupert Hardy, a representative of both MPG and the Dorset CPRE, argues “the vast installation would have been a blight on the landscape of Thomas Hardy’s Wessex”. The Dorset Gardens Trust and both local parish councils objected while the Cranborne Chase Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty stated the Landscape and Visual Impact Assessment was “significantly flawed.”
Cllr Steve Butler, Portfolio Holder for Planning at East Dorset District Council, said: “We are disappointed with the judgement. We are studying the detail of it to determine our approach with regard to an appeal.”