Is it right time, wrong place, for a solar farm at Hazelbury?

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Is a rural site in Dorset right for a large solar farm? Rachael Rowe revisits the proposals for an industrial-scale solar farm between Mappowder, Hazelbury Bryan and Pulham.

We’re all aware of escalating energy prices and the impact of the war in Ukraine on oil and gas supplies. More sustainable solutions need to be found quickly, but what if they are not the most appropriate ones for a rural site? If you have recently been out on a spring walk and admired the delightful scenery in the Blackmore Vale, how would you feel if you turned a corner and encountered a mile-long solar panel farm?
We revisited the solar panel proposals planned for a site between Mappowder, Hazelbury Bryan and Pulham to see what progress has been made.

When does a plot become a blot?
How large can a solar panel site be before it becomes a blot on the landscape? The area around the proposed site is prime farmland and lies within the setting of the most beautiful northerly part of the Dorset Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). The views from Woolland Car Park and the Wessex Ridgeway, in particular, would be obliterated by a mile-long solar farm. At 77 hectares, it would be one of the largest solar farms in the South West. Apart from losing good agricultural land, Ian Bryan from Save Hardy’s Vale said: “They need it to be as big as possible to be economically viable. This type of development eats up farmland for very little return.” The group supports solar panels, just not on an industrial scale in a rural
area.

A handy location
Solar panels have to go somewhere, but why did the developers pick this particular site? At a meeting in October last year, a representative from the proposed developer British Solar Renewables explained the reasons for creating an industrial solar power station at North Dairy Farm.
It turns out there are already 132,000 Kva power lines running above the fields, making it highly
attractive as a site for a solar farm. Further reasons included ‘doing it for Dorset Council’ and for local supply.
However, the people of Spetisbury recently learned the electricity generated from a solar farm near them is actually supplying London, raising questions about where power from Mappowder would go.

The ‘Boywood canal’ – or the road to Hazelbury Bryan as some people call it.

Flood plain
And could the developers have picked a site with a far lower risk of flooding? Remember that day of torrential rain and flooding in October last year? Mappowder was cut off by flooding for hours. Photos from the proposed solar farm site reveal a weakness: its position where the River Lydden and Wonston Brook meet, and where the high landscape points converge, mean this area is always vulnerable to flooding. It’s not somewhere you would naturally choose to place solar panels, where they would probably get submerged in heavy rain or flash flooding. There are also footpaths in the area that would be significantly
affected by the development. We all need to change our habits and learn to live with alternative energy sources in the months and years to come. But how effective is solar power compared to other sustainable
energy sources? Compared to hydropower or offshore wind, it lags behind and is less efficient.

From bridleway N52/5 the site can be seen – indicated in red.

A planning opportunity?
As pointed out in an article in the February issue of the BV, Dorset has been slow on the uptake of solar panels on housing. Is there an opportunity for new housing developments in Dorset to be fitted with solar
panels as a more sustainable solution?
Rupert Hardy, chairman of the North Dorset CPRE, said: “On the solar front, we are well aware of the climate emergency and have not objected to a number of solar farms in North Dorset, except for the more inappropriate ones, which are often the larger ones, that would desecrate our countryside. We are supportive of small, <5MW, community-funded solar farms that can be well screened, and more deployment of roof- mounted Solar PV.”

What is the current position?
The senior landscape architect at Dorset Council has recommended the site be opposed, due to its impact on the landscape. It is now Dorset Council’s responsibility to decide whether to support or oppose the proposal, which could see a significant effect on a beautiful part of North Dorset. There are more than 200 letters opposing the proposals on the planning portal, reflecting the strength of feeling from local people.
Although we all have a responsibility to look at more sustainable ways of living, there is clearly a time and place for developments on an industrial scale.

by Rachael Rowe

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