Over 700 objections have now been sent into East Dorset District Council to protest at what could become the second largest solar farm in Dorset, saying it represents damaging industrialisation of the beautiful countryside. This is the largest protest ever mounted against a solar installation application in Dorset. It is on land owned by South Dorset MP Richard Drax. The revised proposal comes after Good Energy were forced to withdraw an earlier application in the face of a successful legal challenge. The development site still remains 175 acres or 110 soccer pitches, although the solar farm will now cover 106 acres with 90,000 solar PV panels.
Residents have formed the Mapperton Preservation Group (MPG) and are objecting to the vast solar farm as it is located in an Area of Great Landscape Value, which is a protected landscape, as well as on grounds of visual intrusion, adverse impact to amenity and heritage assets, and the use of grade 3a good arable land. Katharine Butler, a representative of MPG, said: “We would not object to a solar farm of 40 acres, but this is an industrially sized project in a beautiful landscape and clearly the motivations for doing it are financial and not environmental.”
Ironically one of the key objections is the adverse impact on the setting and views from Grade II* listed Charborough Park, which is Drax owned. 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” will be affected too. Rupert Hardy, a representative of both MPG and the Dorset branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), argues “the vast installation will be a blight on the landscape of Thomas Hardy’s Wessex.” The Dorset Gardens Trust have objected while the Cranborne Chase Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty states the Landscape and Visual Impact Assessment is “significantly flawed.”
Dorset CPRE is supporting local residents. It is in principle supportive of renewable energy and is not opposing the majority of solar farm applications. Indeed there are 10 solar sites, 9 approved and 1 pending, within a 5 mile radius of Mapperton. However Dorset CPRE say this scheme is in unspoilt countryside, on good agricultural land and protected by national and local planning policies.It also argues strongly that the County constituencies of Dorset have made huge strides towards meeting their share of the much discussed national Renewable Energy Target of generating 7.5% of their projected energy needs in 2020 from renewable sources. Rural Dorset has already achieved some 85% of its 2020 target thanks to the approval of 36 solar farms and can thus be much more selective in choosing any further sites.
The planning hearing has been announced for 23 June.