There has been some good news about Rampisham Down and its future. The developers British Solar Renewables have resubmitted their proposals to develop a smaller (but still highly profitable) solar farm on arable land adjacent to the SSSI, so that they can make use of the high voltage electricity connection to the national grid – which was there to supply electricity to the Short Wave Radio Transmitting Station, and was one of the things that made Rampisham Down so attractive as a site for a Solar Farm in the first place.
When they originally submitted this application for land adjacent to the SSSI, they had not ruled out going to Public Inquiry (due to start this month) to win the argument so they could develop on the SSSI. Things have changed.
In the revised application they now state that they will mitigate the impact of the new Solar Farm by removing all but three of the remaining Masts; remove or mitigate the impact of the Solar infrastructure already installed on the SSSI; conclude the pending agreement of the SSSI management strategy and landscape restoration plan for the SSSI.
So the developers have accepted that, in order for them to get permission to build their smaller solar farm across the road, they will not proceed with the development on the SSSI. To show willing, BSR have also asked for the Public Inquiry to be put “on hold”, according to Natural England. This is good news all round, as Public Inquiries are very expensive and organisations like Natural England and Dorset Wildlife Trust have better things to do with their funds.
What could possibly have led to such a change of heart from British Solar Renewables? Could the leading players have seen the light and recognised that it was the epitome of unsustainable business practice and hypocrisy to destroy a national wildlife treasure, in order to create some low carbon energy? Possibly, but there are other alternatives.
Regular readers may remember that the pro-Rampisham propaganda site http://www.rampishamdown.com had gone “off air” earlier this year. It turns out that the reason for this was because the people running it, under the guise of Community Heat and Power (a wholly owned subsidiary of British Solar Renewables) had had some sort of falling out with BSR, and left. Shortly afterwards BSR founder Angus MacDonald was removed from, or voluntarily left, the board of the business. The key players who had so bullishly promoted the solar farm at Rampisham Down were no longer on the field.
This is all good news and the people now in charge at BSR should be praised for their sensible approach, to work with Natural England to find a way forward which satisfies their business need (to develop a solar farm that can provide a good return on the investment made by purchasing Rampisham Down and its grid connection) and society’s need to protect national heritage for all our benefits.
This does rather a few questions in my mind unanswered. What does the distinguished former director of Kew Gardens Professor Ghillean Prance, think about the new development? He was happy to go on public record stating that the solar farm on the SSSI would help restore the “severely damaged” grassland. Given that the new solar farm will be smaller than the original plan, and go on arable land (removing its capacity to produce cereal crops) is this a concern for him? Is he worried that the much vaunted experiments into the impact of shading by solar panels on semi-natural grassland have been long abandoned (and thereby shown up for the greenwash they always were).
What about local District Councillor Jill Haynes, who was so enthusiastic with her support for the original scheme. Will she welcome or condemn this new proposal, given that it is a smaller development than the one she had championed.
It would be great to get some comments from either of these people. While we’re waiting for their views, I suggest that as many people as possible get behind the revised application for the new solar farm. You can comment directly to West Dorset District Council here.
The important thing is that the Council must ensure that the application is only given permission on the basis that a legal agreement is drawn up between BSR and Natural England over the future management (ie no development of the SSSI) of Rampisham Down.