Fears solar farm will ruin beauty of area
OPPOSITION is mounting to a proposal to create what is believed to be the country’s largest photovoltaic solar farm in a protected landscape area.
Natural England and English Heritage are both throwing their hats into the ring, as Swindon Council closes its seven-week consultation on the proposal for 50,000 ground mounted PV arrays at the former RAF Wroughton.
The site will produce 41 MW of electricity on 200 acres – an area larger than the village of Chiseldon, or the size of more than 100 football pitches.
The solar farm, proposed to be inside North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty , would be visible from the Ridgeway National Trail and Barbury Castle Iron Age hill fort. It would also be seen from parts of the World Heritage site at Avebury.
The AONB Unit has written asking the Secretary Of State to intervene if the plan gets the go-ahead from Swindon Council.
It wants the unprecedented application to be called in due to its size, location in an AONB against national policy and Swindon Council’s own planning policy.
This week, the campaign was boosted by support from English Heritage and Natural England.
Hugh Beamish, the assistant inspector of ancient monuments at English Heritage, said: “We have been concerned about this from the outset.
“This is, in our view, the wrong site for this development.
“Substantial harm to designated heritage assets of the highest significance, such as scheduled monuments including their settings, will only be permitted in exceptional circumstances.
“We cannot see how this would meet the criteria of wholly exceptional development.”
Natural England has also assessed the application. Alison Howell, the lead advisor for its land use team, said: “The development will have the effect of bringing the urban/developed character of Swindon to the foot of the downs and into the AONB.
“This area is characterised by some of the most emblematic features of the North Wessex Downs – the Ridgeway, the oldest road in England running along the top of the scarp, the Uffington White Horse on the scarp face, and Avebury on the open Downs Plain, forming part of the Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Site.
“This is a landscape that feels as though it has hardly changed over the centuries.”
Charlotte Riggs, the landscape architect for Swindon Council, has objected, saying the solar farm would be visible from Barbury Castle Iron Age Fort and the Ridgeway.
Councillors may debate the proposal later this month.
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