Stephen Howard adds, “The Dorset branch of the CPRE is in principle supportive of renewable energy, but this scheme is greenfield, in unspoilt countryside, agriculturally productive and protected by national and local planning policies. Its scale is also totally out of keeping with the landscape.
Over 500 objections have been sent to East Dorset District Council to protest at what could become the second largest solar farm in Dorset and the third biggest in the UK, saying it will ruin the landscape and lead to the ‘industrialisation’ of the countryside.
Both local parish councils unanimously objected too. “The controversy surrounding this solar farm has been commented on in the Daily Mail, Sunday Times, the BBC and local media in recent weeks,” says the vice chairman of the Dorset Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), Stephen Howard.
The 175 acre 28 MW solar farm, equivalent to 110 soccer pitches, is proposed on land owned by South Dorset MP, Richard Drax, at Mapperton Farm.
“We need energy from renewable sources, but there is no point avoiding climate change if we wreck our precious landscapes in the process. It would represent a large, artificial intrusion into this beautiful and sensitive countryside and the virtual industrialization of it. If it is refused it will deter further similar proposals.”
Dorset CPRE argue that the solar farm should not be located in the middle of an Area of Great Landscape Value, designated for protection by East Dorset District Council, and will take up good quality agricultural land currently used for cereals. The Energy Minister, Gregory Barker, said in April 2013 that “where solar farms are not on brownfield land, you must be looking at low grade agricultural land”, which the Stephen Howard says “this is not. It may not affect the views from many houses but it will be clearly seen from the footpaths and bridleways surrounding the site, as well as those two miles south at Morden. Mapperton and Winterborne Zelston are only 500m and 700m away.”
Dr David Pope, a local resident at Zelston, said, “It will be a major visual intrusion, and will totally ruin our walks and enjoyment of the unspoilt countryside here”. CPRE also point out that any mitigation from extra hedge planting will take years to have effect. CPRE claims there will be little gain for the community in terms of jobs with only a small number being used in the construction phase – compared to the £1bn-plus each year from tourism for the Dorset economy.
“Heritage assets are prolific here with a Roman road running through the middle of the site. Building the solar farm will also cause major disruption on local roads. There is also concern about the cumulative impact given that six solar farms have already been approved or are under active consideration within five miles,” says Stephen Howard.
“Finally there may be no need for this solar farm at all, in order to meet East Dorset’s vision for renewable energy, as their 2020 target for solar photovoltaic is only 10.35 MW. Indeed 39% of the PV energy generation target has already been met and this without causing major damage to East Dorset’s scenic, heritage and amenity assets.”A spokesperson for East Dorset District Council said, “The objections will be taken into consideration when the report goes before members of the planning committee.”