New solar farm planning application at Little Heath Lane, Berkhamsted

21st April 2022

We’re dismayed by the flood of solar farm proposals for sites in designated protected areas of the countryside. A new planning application has recently been submitted for ‘Little Heath Lane Solar Array’ at Berkhamsted in Dacorum Borough.

Yes, solar energy should be a part of the UK’s energy mix. But we want to see rooftop solar energy production, especially utilising the vast rooftop acreage of warehouses, commercial and municipal buildings, before constructing ground-mounted solar installations on greenfield sites in the countryside. Even Solar Energy UK, the solar industry’s trade association, says there are over 617,000 acres of suitable, south-facing rooftops available that should be utilised for solar energy production.

But instead of planning applications for rooftop solar installations, we keep seeing proposals for large, industrial-scale solar ‘farms’ on productive agricultural land. George Eustice, Secretary of State for the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), wrote recently that domestic UK food security is as important as energy independence, and domestic UK food production is at the heart of DEFRA’s strategy.

Little Heath Lane Solar Array, Berkhamsted

We have many concerns about this proposed solar farm, including the following –

Green Belt

The developer Energi Generation is proposing an industrial-scale solar farm on 32 hectares (80 acres) of arable agricultural land. The site is in the Green Belt, which is protected from inappropriate development by national and local planning policy.

The proposal would entail the installation of 1500+ glass photovoltaic panels and their steel / aluminium support frameworks. It would also include at least a dozen metal buildings resembling freight shipping containers in appearance and size, which would house a control room, substations, transformers, switchgear and other infrastructure. The two parts of the site would each be surrounded by 2 metre high galvanised steel fencing, punctuated with over 70 CCTV security cameras mounted on 4 metre high poles. We believe all this constitutes an industrial development of the site, and by definition ‘industrial development’ is inappropriate development in the Green Belt.

One of the purposes of the Green Belt is to prevent coalescence of settlements into one another. The green gap between Berkhamsted and Hemel Hempstead is being eroded by construction of new housing, up to 1200 new dwellings west of Hemel. This solar farm site would further erode and narrow the remaining gap, effectively causing the village of Bourne End to become an extension of Hemel.

Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB)

The Little Heath site is in the setting of the Chilterns AONB, i.e. within 500 metres. In fact, the site is directly adjacent to the AONB, and would cause harm to the landscape in this buffer zone. Long range views into and out of the AONB would also be harmed.

Agricultural Land

The site is currently in agricultural use and, in accordance with government policy, should remain in agricultural use for food production. Based on average UK yield data, a site of this size could produce  200 tonnes of grain per year.

Landscape Character

The site is in a prominent location on sloping land, open and visible over long distances and from all directions. This is contrary to the industry trade association’s own guidance, which says that solar farms should be sited on level land, and not in visually prominent locations. The image above shows the proposed site viewed from the south, from Little Hay golf course and The Hertfordshire Way long distance footpath.  The open character of the landscape will be destroyed by the sea of glass panels, the metal buildings, and the security fencing.

Wildlife

The habitats of many species of wildlife would be compromised. Birds can be injured by mistaking the panels for water. Mammals can be injured or killed if they get trapped in the fencing. Badgers and deer are both frequently spotted on the site.

Residential and Recreational Amenity

Residents in the surrounding area, including those residing on Little Heath Lane, on streets in the eastern part of the Hall Park estate in Berkhamsted, on Sugar Lane, and in the village of Bourne End, will all have sightlines into the solar farm. There will also be harm to the recreational amenity for walkers on nearby public rights of way including The Hertfordshire Way long distance footpath, which runs up the opposite hillside to the south of the site, and for golfers at Little Hay, also to the south of the site.

Our own submittal

You can read more about our concerns, as well as the relevant formal planning policy guidance, in our own submittal. We are urging the Council to refuse this planning application.

How to submit your objections

If the Council receives a lot of objections it can make a real difference to the outcome of solar farm planning applications. Encourage everyone to submit their own objection. Contact your parish, town and Borough Councillors and your MP to let them know about the planning application and your objections, and ask for their support.

You can submit your objection either via the Dacorum Borough Council online planning portal (planning application reference 22/01106/MFA) at

https://planning.dacorum.gov.uk/publicaccess/search.do?action=simple&searchType=Application

Or you can email your objection to planning@dacorum.gov.uk.

Or you can post it to Andrew Parrish, Planning and Development, Dacorum Borough Council, The Forum, Marlowes, Hemel Hempstead, HP1 1DN

Closing date for submittals is Tuesday 3rd May 2022.

If you have found this information helpful, please consider supporting CPRE Hertfordshire. We are a membership charity and joining us costs as little as £36 per year. Or you can make a donation – any amount no matter how large or small helps us carry on protecting the Hertfordshire countryside for everyone’s benefit.

lush sunlit green fields with a blue sky overhead
Site of proposed Little Heath Lane solar array, April 2022 Elizabeth Hamilton