The Public Inquiry has begun into the proposed installation of 150,000 solar panels and associated equipment within a nationally protected landscape – The North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).
The proposal involves covering 67 hectares of agricultural land within the former Wroughton Airfield to the south of Swindon with solar panels. The site is directly visible from the ancient Ridgeway, now a much–walked National Trail, and the Iron Age Fort of Barbury Castle, a landscape where people have walked, taken refuge and sought inspiration since pre-historic times.
If these proposals go ahead, instead of looking out over agricultural land within the airfield, walkers, visitors and tourists to these historic sites will see the industrialising impact from solar arrays covering the equivalent area of 70 football pitches laid side to side.
This is such a large site – the largest to be proposed within a protected landscape anywhere in the UK - that there will be no way to mitigate its impact. It will be too big to be hidden or ignored.
The landscape of the North Wessex Downs attracts tourists to the area; businesses have moved here and been able to attract employees because of the outstanding character and quality of its landscape. The proposed development would inevitably have a negative impact on these qualities that contribute significantly to the local economy.
The North Wessex Downs have the highest level of protection in national planning policy and are internationally recognised for their importance. Natural England, English Heritage and the North Wessex Downs AONB Partnership believe this development would be a departure from the Local Plan and a breach of the Council’s legal duty under Section 85 of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000.