Dorchester: Energy company urges planning committee to decide on large solar farm rather than officer

By Lottie Welch

15th Mar 2022 | Local News

An energy company is asking that Dorset councillors decide on a large solar farm at Cruxton Farm, near Maiden Newton – rather than allow officers to make a decision.

Energy company Enviromena wants to build a 40-acre 11.8 MW solar installation near Maiden Newton capable of providing power to over 4,800 homes every year.

The company say the application should be decided by the planning committee and not by officials under delegated powers.

The site is close to several footpaths, including the MacMillan Way which runs from Cruxton Manor Farm over the hill to Compton Valance.

The Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty partnership had previously claimed that the use of the site would have a "significant effect on the area" with similar concerns from Dorset Wildlife Trust and others.

The site is made up of two fields at Cruxton Farm, 0.7km south-west of Dorchester Road (A356). The hamlet of Cruxton is about 550m north-east of the site with Notton a similar distance away.

Mark Harding, Enviromena's Europe development director, said: "This is a significant renewable energy installation signalling the move away from fossil fuels and requires the benefit of due process. It's an absolute scandal that it might be decided by an officer under delegated powers. We have made a significant investment over 12 months to ensure the site is acceptable to the local community and parish council who are all supportive of the application and the jobs it will create."

He has now written a letter expressing his "concern and disappointment" over the process.

"In the application submission we have provided documentation to demonstrate that exceptional circumstances exist for the development in this location and that it would be in the public interest to grant permission. With no objections from any other consultees to the application, and with full support of the local parish council, the benefits of the scheme clearly far outweigh the limited number of negative aspects linked to the application."

Mr Harding says if the solar 'farm' were built it would offset over 3,000 tonnes of carbon each year and create jobs during the building process.

He claims that a number of changes have been made to the proposal since it was first submitted which should result in biodiversity net gain at the site. The plan includes planting wildflowers and providing nesting boxes for birds.

The company said at the application stage that it does not anticipate removing any trees and hedgerows would remaining largely intact with the potential for additional hedges to be planted. "We have utilised a huge amount of resource and spent thousands of pounds on developing a final scheme and which we feel is only right that it is discussed at a planning committee." Dorset Council say the scheme has not been delegated to officers to decide but, at this stage, is going through its "scheme of delegation" which results in the officer's draft report being considered by the chairman and vice chairman of the strategic planning committee and the relevant ward members who then have five working days to respond on whether they consider the application should be considered at committee or dealt with under delegated powers. Objections to the application have come from Dorset Wildlife Trust although ward councillor, Tony Alford, who says he is neither for or against the proposal, claims that many of these could be overcome by a planning condition. "As an example, DWT is looking for greater use of higher diversity grassland mixes and if this is not done, an opportunity would have been missed. An example here of a straightforward condition to be agreed," he said. Professor David Stupples, from Cruxton Manor, a barrister, says he was surprised not to have been notified of the application by Dorset Council and has raised six technical concerns about the application relating to the possible additional risk of flooding, visual mitigation for the panels, the connection to the national grid which he says would be unacceptable if it were by overhead cables, and access to the site during installation and commissioning. "Whilst we support the expansion of renewable energy in the UK to combat climate change, plans for this site are lacking sensible consideration," he said. Also objecting is the Quick family from Notton Cottage who say the site will have a significant impact on the AONB and local wildlife: "As locals who walk & run along the MacMillan Way regularly, it would ruin the enjoyment of this. I would also be concerned about the impact this may have on local tourism. The access along the popular cycle route 26 would be highly unsuitable for heavy vehicles as well as a concern for local residents who need the access for their homes." The company behind the proposal has updated access plans to the site since the original application was submitted.

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