The big news is that the date for the Rampisham Down Public Inquiry has been set for 13th September 2016. This is quite a long time away and should give all parties enough time to marshal their evidence and arguments.
Talking of evidence, I have been waiting with bated breath (not baited) for British Solar Renewables (BSR) to publish the latest results of their “monitoring” project at Rampisham Down. A quick look at their Rampisham Down website, which for some unfathomable reason fails to mention that the whole thing is owned, run and funded by BSR, reveals that the monitoring report is being published in November. Well. it’s the 27th today….. BSR’s minions at RampishamDown.com will have to work through the weekend if they’re going to meet their self-imposed deadline.
But actually this report was supposed to have been published back in July. At least according to Industry Trumpet Solar Power Portal. We were told by Solar Power Portal that the report was published on the 9th July and that it showed that putting 50,000 solar panels on a SSSI grassland would have “no impact”. I asked BSR and Solar Portal for a copy of the report, but received no reply from either.
Still it’s nice of rampishamdown.com to entertain us in the meantime with pictures of sheep peacefully grazing under the panels. It would probably be more accurate to show the sheep lying down under the panels, or pooing under the panels, but that’s just conjecture.
What is more interesting is a recent Planning Inquiry decision on a solar farm in Surrey. The proposal was to build a 32.5ha solar farm, in the Green Belt, at Mynthurst Surrey. The application had been rejected by the council and the applicant had appealed. The appeal had been “recovered” so that the final decision was taken by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, who agreed with the Planning Inspector.
The main reason for the appeal being rejected was because putting a 32.5ha solar farm in the Green Belt of Surrey was “inappropriate development” which would, by definition ” be harmful to the Green Belt”. The Inspector also found that the solar farm would have “an adverse impact on the character and appearance of the site” even though the site lies outside the Surrey Hill Area of Outstanding Beauty. The Inspector took quite a lot of time to explore what inappropriate development in the Green Belt might mean in practice; he concluded that any development which might have an impact on the open-ness of the Green Belt would cause harm. He also mentioned “introducing an essentially manufactured form of development into the largely natural environment” even though the application was on arable land. In considering the landscape, the area sites within a local landscape designation, but even so, the Inspector concluded that the development “would harm the character and appearance of the surrounding landscape and conflict with Landscape policies.” And visual amenity for footpath users would be “significantly harmed.”
While Rampisham Down is not in Green Belt, it is within the Dorset Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and of course it is also a Site of Special Scientific Interest. Both of these are statutory designations which the Inspector will have to consider. Given the weight attached to the impact of the Mynthurst Solar Farm on a local landscape designation, it isn’t hard to conclude that, whatever claims BSR may make about the impact of the panels on the nature at Rampisham, the impact of a 50ha solar farm on the AONB will weigh heavily against the development.