The case is a good example of the importance of sensitive location for large scale ground-mounted solar photovoltaic development. As Natural England’s sector-specific guidance (TIN101) advises: “Careful site selection and design is the best way to avoid or minimise potential adverse landscape and visual impacts.”
In this case, the proposed development was not within a designated landscape, but was in an historic parkland site recognised as a non-designated heritage asset (Alfreton Park) with six public footpaths passing over it.
The Inspector found that the panels “would present as a starkly industrial mass of metal” given their prominent location, visible from as far away as 4-5 kilometres. The development would have a significant effect on landscape character and would be significantly out of scale with the landscape and attractive valley landform. He commented that the value of the landscape was enhanced by its accessibility from Alfreton and local footpaths. While new 3 metre hedging would, in time, screen the development from footpaths through the site, that itself would be an adverse impact – in “stark contrast” to the prevailing situation. The humming noise of inverters would add to the impact for those walking through the site.
On heritage, the Inspector found that there would be harm to the settings of a listed church and manor house and that the heritage significance of Alfreton Park would be seriously compromised. He also found a degree of harm to the more distant, but Grade I listed, Wingfield Manor given the visibility of the site from the west.
A potentially significant issue arose at the inquiry as to impacts upon hypersensitive pupils at a special needs school immediately adjacent to the site. While there was no evidence as to extent of some of these impacts and the Inspector could not draw a firm conclusion, it was a matter that weighed against the scheme.
The Inspector had regard to the need for renewable energy and the lifespan of the development, but he considered that the landscape and visual impacts were decisive, and that 40 years is a very significant period over which those impacts will be felt.
The decision letter is available here.
Ned Westaway acted for Amber Valley Borough Council.