East Devon, Dorset – different counties, same old stories!
Michael McCarthy in today’s Independent writes about a 24-megawatt solar farm planning proposal on Rampisham Down, Dorset “protected” by SSSI and AONB designations. Natural England objected, even the planners advised it went against the NPPF, yet two weeks ago it was voted through in an unrecorded vote. Will Eric Pickles call it in?
Here are some extracts, a link the full article is given below:
“If one were to draw up a list of the most benign technologies ever invented, it seems obvious that solar power would be near the top.
Electricity produced merely by the action of sunlight falling on a silicon panel seems to be drawback-free – no moving parts to go wrong, no combustible materials and most important of all, no harmful emissions of noxious gases to damage human health, or wreck the Earth’s atmospheric balance. If we are to meet our commitments to deal with climate change through the switch to renewable energy, solar will be more necessary than ever.
Yet the recent runaway expansion of the technology in Britain is now clashing headlong with nature protection in a key case in Dorset, which ultimately involves high stakes, concerning a solar farm – a concept that did not exist in the UK until five years ago………………..
Rampisham Down has never been put to the plough: it is one of the largest remaining sites of what is now a very rare habitat – lowland acid grassland. It has an unusual mosaic of plants and has been declared a Site of Special Scientific Interest by Natural England, the Government’s wildlife agency. Natural England strongly objected to the proposal when it came up before West Dorset District Council, as did the Dorset Wildlife Trust, and indeed, the council’s own planning officers, who recommended rejection, pointing out that the proposal went against the National Planning Policy Framework: yet two weeks ago the council’s Development Control Committee voted it through.
I asked the committee chairman, Councillor Ian Gardner, what the vote was, and he said he did not know. Not quite understanding, I asked him to explain, and he said the figure had not been recorded, although it was definitely a majority in favour. “That’s just the way we do things down here,” he said. (He himself had voted against, he added.)
It is now up to Natural England, and the Dorset Wildlife Trust, and other interested parties, to ask the Communities and Local Government Secretary, Eric Pickles, to “call in” the decision and have another look at it.
It is important that they do, and that he does. Solar power is terrific, and we greatly need it, but that does not mean that our need for it has to ride roughshod over every other environmental consideration. The issue is one of statutory environmental protection: is a wildlife site with a double governmental defence, being a declared Site of Special Scientific Interest within a declared Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, protected – or isn’t it?
If it isn’t, Mr Pickles, we need to know, and make our dispositions accordingly.”