A SOLAR farm near Maiden Newton has been rejected on appeal by the Secretary of State Michael Gove.

Dorset Council had refused planning consent for the 12MW solar site over two fields at Cruxton Farm in November 2022.

The decision led to an appeal hearing last summer with the inspector recommending that the solar farm be planning consent granted – a recommendation which was overturned this week by Mr Gove on the recommendation of a junior minister who reviewed the case.

At the hearing in July and August it was argued that although the site is in the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty it was a relatively small scheme and would have caused limited harm to the landscape.

In response to the arguments at the inquiry the Secretary of State decided that the appellant’s evidence “has tended to underestimate the impacts of the proposal” and would damage the current uninterrupted panoramic views being visible from up to 4km away and obvious from closer to the site, despite landscaping proposals.

Had the scheme been allowed to go ahead it would have generated enough power for 4,800 homes over a 40-year period.

One of the reasons the site was chosen was because the Maiden Newton electricity substation is one of the few in Dorset which has sufficient capacity.

Critics had argued that as well as being damaging to the wider landscape the solar panels would have had a detrimental effect for walkers on the a nearby section of the 200-mile long national Macmillan Trail.

Bridport and Lyme Regis News:

On this the minister agreed with the Dorset landscape team’s assessment on the impact on the trail saying: “the development will substantially alter the character of the site and lead to the direct loss of a fine panoramic view from a section of a promoted route.”

The company behind the application, Enviromena, said that although there had been a small number of objections most local people, including Maiden Newton parish council, had supported the proposals.

Planning officers, the Dorset Campaign to Protect Rural England, the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty team and Natural England all argued that the scheme would cause harm to the AoNB and that the developers had failed to make a case for why they could not build somewhere else.

Dorset councillor Sherry Jespersen said at the time of the original council decision that she was unhappy about the company’s plans for hedging either side of the Macmillan Way over a length of about three quarters of a mile. She said the effect would be walkers feeling as if they were in a tunnel rather than wide open landscapes.

“The harm to the AoNB and the Macmillan Way would be substantial…we are all aware of the need for sustainable electricity, but we also need to be aware of our responsibility to look after our AoNB. If we let it get chipped away, it’s gone forever,” she said.

Enviromena claimed the planting and other landscaping would have resulted in a net gain for biodiversity in the area.

A report from the Secretary of State’s office on the decision concluded: “Weighing against the proposal is harm to the AONB which carries great weight, harm to the recreational benefits of Macmillan Way which carries moderate weight and the temporary reduction in agricultural productivity which carries limited weight…..Overall the Secretary of State considers that the overall conflict with the (Dorset Council) development plan and the material considerations in this case indicate that permission should be refused. The Secretary of State therefore concludes that the appeal should be dismissed, and planning permission refused.”

Bridport and Lyme Regis News: The Secretary of State’s conclusion, although supporting Dorset Council’s rejection of the application is critical of the authority over its policy, or lack of policy on solar developments saying in the official report:  “The council largely accepts it has no strategy, targets or sites for their implementation of renewable energy, and monitoring data on solar photovoltaic development had not been collected since 2016,” later adding : “However, he notes that the council proposes to identify suitable sites in the new Local Plan, having regard for landscape, the historic environment, amenity, ecology, and productive farmland impacts and other constraints and therefore this position may change in the longer term.”

That plan is not expected to be in place until 2027.