A photovoltaic (PV) solar energy farm described as the largest known proposed PV scheme in the UK - bigger than a typical village and covering an area of more than 100 football pitches -- is causing a major storm because the proposed development is inside our nationally protected landscape.
The scale of the development at 80.5 ha in area is larger than the nearby village of Chiseldon, population around 2,600. The site at the former RAF Wroughton airfield will be particularly visible from the Ridgeway National Trail, described as the country’s oldest road, Barbury Castle Iron Age hill fort and Swindon Borough Council’s own Barbury Castle Country Park and the surrounding rights of way.
With around 150,000 proposed ground-mounted PV arrays producing around 41MW, the project’s supporters say it will be a major contributor to renewable energy resources.
But the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) has called the proposed development unprecedented and likely to cause significant harm to the character and appearance of the AONB.
The Director of the North Wessex Downs AONB, Henry Oliver, says the location of the proposed solar farm is completely nonsensical and ‘strikes at the heart of our stunning and fragile landscape.’
The AONB Unit has noted that although renewable energy production is in the public interest, AONBs have the highest status of landscape protection and their conservation and enhancement is also in the public interest.
Andrew Lord, AONB Planning Advisor, stated: “We are satisfied that renewable needs can be met from suitable sites outside protected landscapes or from carefully designed schemes within protected landscapes at an appropriate scale, of which there are many well concealed examples. However, this proposal at 80.5 hectares will completely change the character of the landscape and is looked down onto and into from many public viewpoints.”
The AONB Unit has written asking the Secretary of State to intervene if the plan gets the go-ahead from Swindon councillors. Specifically it has requested the application should be “called in” due to its size, location in an AONB contrary to national policy, Swindon Borough Council’s own planning policy and the Council’s own interest in the application.
Mr Lord said: “The AONB Unit consider in this case the significant harm to the character and appearance of the AONB and its component heritage assets would be unacceptable and overriding. These adverse effects would significantly and demonstrably outweigh any benefits from this scheme.”
Mr Lord added: “It is particularly disappointing that Swindon Commercial Services have chosen to site this development in the one part of the Borough which is nationally and indeed internationally recognised for the quality of its landscape. We are often told that a significant reason why companies choose to locate in Swindon is because of the quality of its surrounding countryside. Most of the Borough is not within the AONB, so avoidance of this protected landscape is an option which has not been properly considered.”
Note:Revised Government policy on renewable energy was published on the 29th of July. The purpose behind this document is to confirm that the need for renewable energy does not outweigh other considerations, including environmental protection.