Solar farm appeal dismissed! A win for the Green Belt at Little Heath Lane
Good news for the countryside at Little Heath Lane, Berkhamsted in Dacorum Borough. The Planning Inspector has dismissed the appeal and refused permission for a large-scale commercial solar farm in this sensitive location.
The 32-hectare site is situated on a visually-prominent hillside within the Green Belt and in the setting of the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).
Here at CPRE Hertfordshire, we campaign for rooftop renewables – solar energy generation on all suitable commercial, municipal, and residential structures such as rooftops and car park canopies. But we do not want to see ground-mounted solar installations covering over beautiful landscapes in designated protected land, such as this site on Little Heath Lane.
Along with many local residents, we objected to Energi Generation’s planning application. Dacorum Borough Council refused permission in September 2022, and the developer subsequently appealed the decision to the Planning Inspectorate. The Planning Inspector conducted an Inquiry in public in August and October of this year, and we were a registered Interested Party. We argued that the proposed solar installation would result in severe harm to the landscape and to the Green Belt.
So we are delighted that the Planning Inspector has dismissed the appeal!
Details of the appeal decision
The full Appeal Decision is available to download.
In summary, the Planning Inspector listed the key issues as:
- The effect of the development on the openness of the Green Belt and its purposes;
- The effect of the development on the landscape character and the appearance of the area; and
- Whether the harm to the Green Belt by reason of inappropriateness, and any other harm, is clearly outweighed by other considerations so as to amount to the very special circumstances necessary to justify the development within the Green Belt.
And in arriving at his decision to dismiss the appeal, the Planning Inspector wrote:
“The parties agree that the proposal is inappropriate development in the Green Belt. This is, by definition, harmful to the Green Belt. In addition, the proposal would result in moderate harm to the openness of the designated area and conflict with three of the purposes of including land in the Green Belt. The harm to the Green Belt arising from these matters attracts substantial weight against the proposal.”
These three purposes to which the Planning Inspector refers are enshrined in national planning policy:
- To check the unrestricted sprawl of large built-up areas;
- To prevent neighbouring towns merging into one another;
- To assist in safeguarding the countryside from encroachment.
The Planning Inspector also wrote:
“In addition, particularly given the slope of the site and its visibility, the proposal would cause at least moderate harm to the landscape character of the area. To that, I add the further harm related to the setting of the AONB.”
“That the harm would persist for 40 years weighs in the balance against the development.”
“The policy and guidance related to renewable energy carries significant weight in favour of the proposal. However this does not confer an automatic approval of such schemes.”
And in closing:
“In this case, the harm to the Green Belt and that caused by the landscape / AONB issues would not clearly be outweighed by the other considerations identified and therefore the very special circumstances necessary to justify the development do not exist.”
A campaigning success
We’re pleased to have played our part in protecting the Green Belt and the setting of the AONB at Little Heath Lane.
We know of ten other large-scale commercial solar farms currently being proposed for the open countryside around Hertfordshire, most of them on designated protected land such as that at Little Heath Lane. We hope that the solar farm promotors take heed of, and are deterred by, this new appeal decision.
To read more about this case, documents available to download include, in reverse chronological order:
Our early comments on the proposal prior to the submittal of the planning application, February 2022
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