A madding crowd: Fury over plans to build 190 acre solar farm on countryside that inspired author Thomas Hardy that will produce enough energy to power 13,000 homes

  • The controversial plant would be equivalent in size to 150 Wembley Stadiums
  • It would see 150,000 panels covering green land in novelist’s beloved Dorset
  • Objectors say Hardy would never have supported the ‘desecration’ of the area 

Plans to build a 190 acre solar farm on countryside that inspired legendary novelist Thomas Hardy have been met with a madding crowd. 

Locals are up in arms over the proposed plant, which would be equivalent in size to 150 Wembley Stadiums, with some 150,000 panels covering fields of green land in Dorset. 

The farm would be able to power 13,000 homes each year, and would be just three miles away from another site where a similar-sized solar farm has already been earmarked.  

Between them they will cover about 400 acres of verdant land in the Blackmore Vale, a patchwork of fields that have captured the imagination of Victorian author Hardy and poet William Barnes.

Hardy wrote lyrically about the ‘Vale of the Little Dairies’ in his works and chose it as the setting of his famous 1891 novel Tess of the D’Urbervilles.

The novel’s protagonist, Tess, was born in the area.

While some objectors to the two solar farms reason that Hardy was, for his time, an eco warrior, they say he would never have supported the ‘desecration’ of his beloved Wessex.

Plans to build a 190 acre solar farm on countryside that inspired legendary novelist Thomas Hardy have been met with a madding crowd

The proposed plant would be equivalent in size to 150 Wembley Stadiums, with some 150,000 panels covering fields of green land in Dorset

Hardy wrote lyrically about the ‘Vale of the Little Dairies’ in his works and chose it as the setting of his famous 1891 novel Tess of the D’Urbervilles

Tony Fincham, chairman of the Hardy Society, said: ‘Hardy was an environmentalist before the term came into general use and I suspect that he would have favoured clean energy production.

‘He didn’t like motorcars and modern inventions – so may have supported the implementation of solar panels. However, this is a solar farm on a massive scale.

‘Hardy gives lovely, quite lyrical descriptions of the area and the views. Obviously, Hardy would oppose anything that spoils the landscape in some way.

‘It is a beautiful landscape that he would not have wanted to see ruined.’

The North Dairy Farm Solar Park, that is being proposed by British Solar Renewables Energy, would stretch for over a mile and would neighbour the protected conservation areas of Mappowder, Hazelbury Bryan and Pulham.

Objectors have condemned the plans as inappropriate, arguing it would cost the county its ecological and cultural heritage.

The Save Hardy’s Vale community, which opposes the scheme, said ‘the industrial destruction and visual blight of the beautiful Blackmore Vale’.

Group member Ian Bryan said: ‘It is in the wrong place at the wrong time.

‘It is an area of outstanding natural beauty. It is turning a piece of lovely countryside into an industrial site and the impact on the communal paths in that area will be devastated.

‘If Hardy came back to life, he would see that the area has not changed since he wrote Tess of the D’Urbervilles.

‘He would not want to see harm done to highly valued conservation areas and protected landscapes, especially in the astonishingly beautiful countryside of north Dorset.’

Objectors have condemned the plans as inappropriate, arguing it would cost the county its ecological and cultural heritage

While some objectors to the two solar farms reason that Hardy was, for his time, an eco warrior, they say he would never have supported the ‘desecration’ of his beloved Wessex

The Save Hardy’s Vale community, which opposes the scheme, said ‘the industrial destruction and visual blight of the beautiful Blackmore Vale’,

Much like Hardy might have, the Campaign to Protect Rural England favour small community-led solar farms with a maximum capacity of 5 MW that can be well-screened from surrounding view points.

However, they strongly oppose BSR’s proposal along with the other solar farm planned for Stockbridge Farm, near Sherborne.

Rupert Hardy, chairman of North Dorset CPRE, said: ‘They are rather large solar farms which are going to do clear damage in terms of adverse visual and heritage of an unspoilt area of Blackmore.

‘We are aware of climate change and we support smaller solar panel farms but these are not small farms – they are sizable. We think this desecration of the countryside is totally inappropriate.

‘It would be unfortunate if they were built because Dorset is a county which is renowned for being unspoilt.

‘It would be a tragedy as the area is hugely valuable to visitors and residents alike. We are so very concerned about the heritage and cultural assets.’

Residents such as Reverend Richard Kirlew and his wife Liz of Sherborne in North West Dorset, have written to Dorset Council expressing their opposition to the plans.

Rev Kirlew said: ‘With huge amounts of land being swallowed up for building, to lose another 190 acres is ridiculous.

‘Whilst we are well aware of the need for a reliable and clean source of electricity, we fail to see why it is necessary to shift the burden of this to areas which, in the planner’s eyes, seem of little relevance.

‘We need to remember that the countryside, even though it affects few of the population directly affects all of us indirectly.

‘We are both fully supportive of solar panels, but these should be on the roofs of new buildings, not taking up such huge amounts of good agricultural land.

‘There are two very similar sized applications going on in a similar area. I do not object to solar power by any means, but once you have two there’s nothing to say you cannot have more.

‘It would ruin the countryside. It’s not a case of nimbyism but two that size is going to be something, believe me. It is getting a bit much really.’

The proposals are similar to those that emerged last year, for a site just three miles down the road 

Locals near Longburton in the Blackmore Vale, Dorset opposed the similar plans when they emerged last year

BSR Energy say the plan ‘will assist Dorset Council in reducing greenhouse gas emissions in line with local and national targets.’

Colin Ramsay, head of development at British Solar Renewables, said: ‘It has never been more important to change the way we generate energy in this country.

‘This solar park would generate enough urgently needed renewable energy to meet the (equivalent) annual electrical needs of approximately 13,000 local family homes.

‘Dorset Council recently declared a Climate Emergency, this application will help Dorset meet its commitments and help the UK achieve net zero emissions by 2050.

‘In addition to generating much needed clean energy, this temporary planning application would dramatically improve the land’s biodiversity (by over 50%) and provide green ‘corridors’ to enable and encourage wildlife and roaming deer to use the land.

‘Prior to submitting a planning application we conducted a public consultation process, during which we listened closely to local concerns and encouragement, to help shape our proposals.

‘We continue to work closely with Dorset Council and the local community as the planning process continues.’

The consultation for the North Dairy Farm Solar Park will close at the end of this month.

The proposals are similar to those that emerged last year, for a site just three miles down the road. 

Paris-based company Voltalia wants to install 100,000 solar panels on fields near the village of Longburton in the Blackmore Vale. 

The £20million solar farm, which was at the time described as the biggest in the south west of England, covering 187 acres or the size of 140 football pitches, would produce enough energy to power 10,600 homes for 35 years. 

But residents slammed the ‘unpleasantly large development’ and claim it would ruin the setting for Hardy’s finest works. 

Source: Read Full Article