Good news today from the Department for Communities and Local Government. New Secretary of State Greg Clark has decided that West Dorset District Council’s extraordinary decision to give planning permission for a 50ha solar farm on a Site of Special Scientific Interest at Rampisham Down, West Dorset, should be reviewed by a Planning Inspector at a Public Inquiry.
This sensible decision was by no means inevitable, but happened at least in part thanks to all the 10,870 people who signed the Wildlife Trust’s e-petition asking the previous Secretary of State Eric Pickles, to call in the planning permission.
What happens next? The Planning Inspectorate (PINS) has asked the developer and the planning authority to provide statements including “full particulars of the case” and a list of documents they intend to refer to. Natural England will also be asked to do the same and Dorset Wildlife Trust, who have made a number of valuable interventions to defend Rampisham Down, are also being invited to do the same. All these documents need to be prepared and sent off in the next six weeks (ie by 11th August.)
The Inspector has already indicated that they are particularly interested in evidence as to whether the development is consistent with NPPF paragraph 10 (climate change) and 11 (conserving and enhancing the natural environment). They are also interested in the extent to which the development is in line with the Local Plan.
Any organisation or individual that objected to the original planning application potentially is in a position to give verbal or written evidence to the Inquiry. As is always the case, the more people who send in evidence or are prepared to stand up and be counted, the more likely we will win. I am thinking about whether to attend and give oral evidence or not, but I will certainly be submitting written evidence. I will keep you posted with latest developments and how to go about giving evidence.
A 32 acre solar farm has recently got the go ahead adjacent to Thorne Moors SSSI (also Natura 2000 site) and other areas of SSSI (not part of NE NNR holding). This despite having nationally significant populations of RDB invertebrates (including aquatics, the impact upon which is unknown) as well as species new to the UK, why? Because Natural England centralised planning advice and DES team forgot to make local enquiries. The local authority are therefore effectively prevented from requiring post development monitoring. They can ask or encourage, but with NE green lighting development through their ‘trading arm’ what chance of any serious science being conducted?
Ever an agnostic, but ever an observer of EN/NE ….
thanks mud lark – the comparison between Natural England’s robust stance at Rampisham and completely missing the proposal at Thorne is extremely stark.
Sadly, consistency is not something I recognise as a NE trait. However, it’s good that they do occasionally take a robust stance.
As a former NE Senior Planning Advisor I sympathise. Things do slip though the net because the central team carry out a map based assessment – if its not on a site or close enough to be deemed to have an impact they will respond with no comment or Standing Advice. The difficulty comes when info about interest on site turns up later. Obviously if local staff are/become aware of the interest and the proposal they have the option to make bespoke comments. Its not perfect but as good as we could get under the circumstances.
What is very important though is that an interest is known to locals but the site is not designated then it needs to go either to NE staff of the Record centre who should inform the Planners………if they have an ecologist………………….
Please look on a map (eg MaGIc), Thorne Colliery is but a stones throw from Thorne Moors SSSI/Natura 2000. It’s even nearer to the western lagg fen of Inkle Moor SSSI. This is the HHL & NE are not known for robust defence here, wind farms galore creating a ring of steel around Thorne Moors SSSI particularly. Totally destroyed the landscape character of wilderness, but setting aesthetics aside what about the turbine foundations – LRM hydrological integrity??? Then again …. they receive more annual funding than the local community pot & it doesn’t come back locally either! Yes Doncaster has a planning ecologist & they were none too happy either, sad really sad but look at the history …. now we fear for the future.
Excellent news. It would be good to see what Professor Prance has to say under challenge.
thanks John. He certainly has appeared at Inquiries before (for developers) but he has already made some highly challengible comments about Rampisham.
Re the good news about the public inquiry into Rampisham Down (information not yet available on the PINS website) and your comment that organizations or persons who commented on the original application can submit comments to the PI, I understand this right of comment applies also to those who didn’t submit views on the original planning application. See para 2.5.1 in http://www.planningportal.gov.uk/uploads/pins/procedural_guide_call_ins.pdf and para 5.2 in http://www.planningportal.gov.uk/uploads/pins/taking-part_planning-inquiry.pdf – a PINS advisor has confirmed it is possible to send representations to the public inquiry whether or not you commented on the original planning application.
thanks for that clarification Helene – that’s very good news.
On the subject of Rampisham I do wonder why local authorities do not require an an alternative site test like EA do for riverside developments ie just ask whether there are any other suitable site in the vicinity. Mind you I think it was recommended for refusal so perhaps that is overegging it.
On a related matter have you kept up with Javelin Park near Gloucester (this one IS fun!)? GCC wanted to build a massive incinerator next to M5 (140ft chimneys). NE objected because of significant impacts on landscape from the nearby AONB. Huge local objections.
The GCC Planning Committee refused it, the County Council and developers appealed and an Inspector passed it. Now it is going to Judicial Review.
thanks for both of these Gwil.
Thanks Miles re Mud-Larks comment on Thorne & Hatfield. Ne would have to be sure that a solar farm would have an adverse impact on the SSSI. I take the point about ground water but are they proposing to drain? If so that is potentially serious and could require a Habs Regs assessment (I think its SPA/SAC). Otherwise are there likely to be any impacts on the protected site apart from initial disturbance?
If the Doncaster ecologist had been very concerned he should have created/chased up the local NE office.
NE deals with thousands of planning consultations annually and has to respond to within 21 days.
Applications are assessed on maps using buffers – these have been drawn according to site sensitivity and proposed activity. So for example a wind turbine of a certain size within a set distance of a bird site will trigger the need for a bespoke response. It will then go to the local office team for more detailed analysis.
The target was for 60% of consultations to be done by the central team using Standing Planning Advice. Sometimes applications are misunderstood and if standing advice is not appropriate and if local staff are directly involved aware or are informed by third parties they can take the case.Typically they have to ask the LPA for an extension.
If you are really bothered about why this one happened the way it did its probably worth sticking in an FoI request asking for the assessment forms. If they agree that they got it wrong they can amend the buffers and standing advice.
As I say it is not perfect but with the volume of consultations that NE is receiving they have to have a system and sometimes there are mistakes.
Miles I appear to have confused Gwilym, my apologies. There were two topics in my comment, I should have made sure that was clear. That of NEs stance on the Tween Bridge wind farm particularly in respect of impact upon hydrological integrity on the peat body.
Secondly and the main topic of your blog post & my comment, that relating to solar farms. The one on Thorne Colliery was effectively green lighted by central NE who did not as far as I understand it contact local knowledgeable staff. Cash strapped Doncaster MBC will not expend funds or effort when NE accept developers cash through their DES to assist a commercial project.
Not perfect, sadly far from it. As I say this is the HHL & it’s grim up ‘north’ ….
Thanks Mud Lark
Yes I did confuse the two!
Solar farms are primarily looked at in landscape and visual terms unless they are right on a feature of interest. Unless there is a protected landscape nearby (NP, AONB) NE will not comment specifically. If there is one within the buffer it will go to the local team.
I commented on one in Hampshire a couple of years ago which abutted an SSSI (scrub woodland and butterflies). It would not impact the SSSI and so there were no planning grounds to oppose it.
Unfortunately the ‘rules’ now say that is an Appeal Inspector considers the grounds of an objection from a public body to be ‘unreasonable’ he can award costs against that body!
In these cash strapped times the Government doesnt need to have a ‘bonfire of the quangos’ it simply starves them into ineffectiveness and death.
Sadly a good way to ignore the fact that aquatic invertebrates found here and at only one other site in the UK might be at serious risk. Large panels are attractive to aquatic invert species as they appear, if I understand the literature correctly, to be areas of water. By signing off the proposal NE have lost us the opportunity to undertake monitoring – so much for evidence based science, monitoring etc. or ‘partnerships’ and collaborative working …. This is disappointing as there is no UK science published about potential or actual impact, it has been Hungarian or Czech so not directly comparable or very limited use in English situations.
Why would NE object to wind farms when they receive substantially more funding (from the Tween Bridge development) than the local community pot from the developers? Haven’t checked if that was a precedent and where else they have undertaken similar negotiations yet. I suppose it’s a way to generate revenue for staff salaries but not sure about conflict of interest …. a very sad state of affairs I fear and not good for local NE staff.