Sunday, 8 February 2015

Protected habitat gets in a right old pickle!

Surely the correct place for solar panels?
Question: When does “being green” become more of a “dirty brown” in colour?  Answer: When you want to put a huge new solar farm on a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

Honestly, I naively imagined that we had moved on somewhat from the Twyford Down days in the early 1990s, when the M3 motorway carved straight through one of the most protected sites in the whole of the UK. We could quite easily have tunnelled beneath it. However, the reason that the tunnel was not chosen was that it added too much to the overall cost.

Joni Mitchell’s lyrics always come to mind when I drive down the M3 and go through the Twyford Down “cutting”:
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot
With a pink hotel, a boutique
And a swinging hot spot
Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you've got
Till it's gone.

Now we find a new proposal to trash a SSSI. This time involving the erection of some 119,280 photovoltaic panels mounted on steel frames fixed by short driven piles. These assemblies are to be arranged in rows along an east-west axis, with the panels facing south. It is proposed that approximately 40.5ha of the site (56%) will be covered in this way, leaving 33ha undeveloped.

And the site for this “green” proposal? Well, this time it is an ancient grassland SSSI at Rampisham in Dorset.

The principle behind the SSSI protection, as reiterated in the recently produced National Planning Policy Framework, is crystal clear: "proposed development on land within or outside a Site of Special Scientific Interest likely to have an adverse effect on a Site of Special Scientific Interest ... should not normally be permitted.

Natural England, who oversee SSSIs, stated that not only would the construction cause huge damage, but the shade and shelter created by the panels would also substantially alter the habitat and damage the rare and precious ecosystem.

So, that’s that then.

Not a bit of it. On the 15th of January 2015, West Dorset Council's Planning Committee voted to approve the application by British Solar Renewables to build a solar farm on Rampisham Down.

So it comes as very welcome news that Eric Pickles MP, the Secretary for Communities and Local Government, has made his admirably swift decision to put West Dorset Council's grant of planning permission on hold, with an 'Article 25' notice "not to grant planning permission on this application without specific authorisation”.

Government has made a commitment to improve the quality of all of our SSSIs by providing advice and money to enable better management of these top ecological sites. I really don’t think that plonking a massive solar farm on a SSSI was behind their “green” thinking however.

So, come on Mr Pickles, please will you not only pull the plug on this ironically daft project, but also give the council a damn good ear bending at the same time.

While I'm on the subject of Solar panels – can someone tell me why we are using up great chunks of good agricultural land and wildlife habitats for siting these solar farms, when we have thousands and thousands of acres of roof space available? Whenever I have to sit in a motorway queue while trying to drive around one of our major cities such as Birmingham, I always study the vast expanse of roof space that stretches away as far as the eye can see. 

That, Mr Pickles is where you should suggest they put up their solar farm – Birmingham, not rural Dorset.    

No comments:

Post a Comment