Extension of the North Farm Solar Park in Spetisbury into two fields immediately adjoining its western boundary has been approved by Dorset Council planners.
Initial objections from Charlton Marshall and Spetisbury parish councils were withdrawn after further consultation, but concerns remained at the large amount of additional agricultural land being used for 40 years to double the size of the existing installation and its impact on the area.
Local member Andrew Kerby also initially had concerns about landscaping and the impact on local businesses and asked for the application to be considered by the planning committee unless they were resolved, but subsequently withdrew his request and gave his support.
The Dorset AONB Board said a key issue for them was the harm to the appreciation of the view into the AONB in introducing a large-scale ‘unnatural’ element, but recognised that other development and activity, “including the existing solar array, pig rearing enclosures/shelters and feeding hoppers, pheasant feeding stations, paddocks and quad bike/carting courses” already affected these views.
Dorset Council’s landscape team also recognised that human activity, most notably at neighbouring Gorcombe Farm Activity Centre and the existing solar farm, reduced sensitivity to renewable energy development on the site, and that other installations at Canada Farm near Winterborne Stickland and Littleton near Blandford were both distant views. But visibility would be high to users of the surrounding bridleway network, and mitigation measures would not be effective for up to ten years.
“A balance needs to be struck between the necessities for solar energy production against the visual amenity to users of the Rights of Way,” they said.
Consideration was also given to the likely harm to scheduled ancient monuments in the vicinity – barrows – which was said to be “at the lowest end of less than substantial”.
The officer report stated: “The main public benefit of the scheme is substantial and clear. The council declared a climate emergency at a meeting on May 16 2019
with the aim of taking a lead as an authority in tackling climate change. The extended solar farm would be able to provide renewable energy for the equivalent of 6,000 homes a year, displacing 8,600 tonnes of greenhouse gases a year.”
A transport statement anticipated a maximum of eight large vehicles a day accessing the site using the single route from West End Lane for a period of six weeks during construction and would not impact on the highway network.
The planning authority is now considering a minor amendment to the access within the site boundary to accommodate changing commercial arrangements with the relevant landowners.
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