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A planning inspector has refused consent for a solar farm at Doulting, east of Shepton Mallet, in the heart of rural Somerset. Mendip District Council refused permission in January 2013 but the applicant, AEE Renewables, appealed to the Planning Inspectorate. The decision by inspector Karen Ridge LLB was published on 19 December.
The application was for 22,000 solar panels, security fencing and associated equipment on the slopes of Ingsdons Hill about a mile east of Shepton Mallet. The Open Spaces Society, Doulting Parish Council and the Ingsdons Hill Preservation Society were among the objectors.
The inspector observed that ‘the site is within a particularly attractive landscape of rolling hills made up of a patchwork of agricultural fields. Within this landscape the appeal site occupies a prominent location on a south-facing slope’. She
noted that the land was particularly visible from the East Mendip Way long-distance path. At present ‘the scene is one of uninterrupted rolling pastureland and offers a clear appreciation of the quintessentially rural character of the landscape. … The introduction of solar panels with the attendant equipment, fencing and supplementary boundary planning would significantly change the experience of walkers along this 500-metre length of the East Mendip Way.’
She concluded that ‘the proposal would cause significant harm to the intrinsic character and beauty of this part of the countryside. It would also cause material harm to landscape character and it would be prominent and conspicuous from the extensive footpath networks surrounding the site.’ Accordingly, she dismissed the appeal.
This is an excellent decision, the inspector clearly recognised the damage which this ugly development would have on unspoilt countryside, and on walkers’ enjoyment of the Mendip Way and surrounding public footpaths. While she acknowledged the economic benefits of the project in providing renewable energy, she considered these benefits were outweighed by the severe damage to the landscape.
This decision is unequivocal and we are delighted that there has been such a clear outcome to this campaign. We congratulate all who were involved in fighting it.