A PUBLIC inquiry set to take place into a controversial solar farm has been "paused" as developers press ahead with an "alternative" site - across the road.

British Solar Renewables had received planning permission from West Dorset District Council to construct a 24MW solar farm at a former BBC transmission site at Rampisham Down in January 2015. The site was designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) by Natural England and and a campaign to protect the area was led by Dorset Wildlife Trust (DWT).

The application was set to go before a Government public inquiry this month - but British Solar Renewables has asked it be put on hold, following discussions with Natural England. The developers have submitted plans for an "alternative" site for a solar farm, on the other side of the A356 at Rampisham.

Ian Alexander, Natural England team leader for overseeing Rampisham Down discussions, praised the company's "much more mature attitude" to conservation.

He told The News: "Following a series of discussions that the objectors had, and Natural England were leading that process, British Solar Renewables asked the planning inspectorate to put it in abeyance.

"It is not unprecedented. They think they might find a solution which would avoid objections.

"They possibly thought 'none of us want to go through an enquiry, can we pause it and then we can all walk away from it. But they can start again when they want to. That process has been put on pause and if they unpause it, there would be a whole new timetable."

He added: "We completely welcome it.

"The developer is taking a much more mature attitude to the problems that the original application was going to cause for the environment."

Dorset Wildlife Trust (DWT) has backed the agreement between British Solar Renewables and Natural England.

DWT chief executive Simon Cripps, said: “There are some very promising signs that British Solar Renewables is looking to maintain the protection for this nationally important wildlife site on Rampisham Down.

"If they are able to find a suitable solution to their needs that does not damage the site, then we will be the first to applaud their new approach.”

The new application on the north side of Rampisham would be developed in two phases - a 5MW and 12.3MW development, subject to planning permission.

Planning consultants Alder King, in a document submitted to planners last month, said: "Promoting this site for a solar park is a direct response to the protracted negotiations that have taken place in respect of the pending planning application on the Rampisham Down site immediately to the south.

"Arising from this discussion and in response to specific advice received from Natural England via their Discretionary Advice Service and through further consultation, the applicants have been encouraged to put the application site forward as an alternative.

When contacted by The News, British Solar Renewables did not wish to comment.