A maddened crowd, indeed! Locals blast plans to build 190-acre solar farm on countryside that inspired Victorian writer Thomas Hardy as ‘sacrilege’ amid claims it will wreak local tourism

Locals have slammed officials for approving a huge solar farm on landscape that inspired author Thomas Hardy.

The project will see 150,000 solar panels installed on 190 acres of the Dorset countryside the Victorian writer immortalised in his novels.

The solar farm, which would be equivalent in size to 150 Wembley stadiums, will power up to 13,000 homes a year.

British Solar Renewables Energy, the firm behind the project, said it will have a positive impact on the planet and pointed to the wildfires in Europe for a reason to back it.

Locals have slammed officials for approving a huge solar farm on landscape that inspired author Thomas Hardy. The project will see 150,000 solar panels installed on 190 acres of the Dorset countryside the Victorian writer immortalised in his novels

Protestors from local campaign group Save Hardy's Vale are seen in front of the picturesque site in 2021

Protestors from local campaign group Save Hardy’s Vale are seen in front of the picturesque site in 2021

Planners at Dorset Council – which has declared a climate emergency and its intention to be carbon neutral by 2040 – ignored huge opposition to the solar farm as well as their own expert advice to vote it through.

Furious objectors say it will be a desecration of Hardy’s ‘Vale of the Little Dairies’ – the Blackmore Vale.

Hardy wrote lyrically about the Vale in his works and chose it as the setting of his famous 1891 novel Tess of the D’Urbervilles, with protagonist Tess born in the area.

His other works included Far from the Madding Crowd and Jude the Obscure.  

Tony Fincham from the Hardy Society said: ‘Sadly, much of Hardy Country is no longer anything like what it was in his day. 

‘In general, the Cornish parts of Wessex have fared far better than the Dorset ones.

‘This decision brings us back to the question whether Dorset Council values its literary heritage and the tourism which it generates?’

The area is dotted with references to Hardy. The cottage he was born in, in nearby Dorchester, is now a National Trust property and is open to visitors.

Visitors and tourists can also walk along the Hardy Trail, where they are treated to many of the sights that inspired the author. 

Blackmore Vale is mentioned in online guides for visitors. One describes it as the ‘storybook England of your dreams’.

Campaigners argue tourism to the area would be hit once the farm is built and the landscape is altered.  

Furious objectors say it will be a desecration of Hardy's 'Vale of the Little Dairies' - the Blackmore Vale. Hardy wrote lyrically about the Vale in his works and chose it as the setting of his famous 1891 novel Tess of the D'Urbervilles, with protagonist Tess born in the area

Furious objectors say it will be a desecration of Hardy’s ‘Vale of the Little Dairies’ – the Blackmore Vale. Hardy wrote lyrically about the Vale in his works and chose it as the setting of his famous 1891 novel Tess of the D’Urbervilles, with protagonist Tess born in the area

The council’s own senior landscape officer said they were unable to support the application and the authority also received 192 letters of objection compared to just 24 for the scheme.

The solar farm is close to the protected conservation areas of Mappowder, Pulham and Hazelbury Bryan. 

Two parish councils for these villages also objected to the proposals.

Councillor Pauline Batstone said the solar farm will be detrimental for local tourism and said it was ‘sacrilege’ to develop so close to protected landscape.

She wrote in a post on Facebook: ‘There is nothing to be gained by this development for my residents – the only ones who will gain are those renting out the land and the developers who don’t live here.’ 

Planners at Dorset Council - which has declared a climate emergency and its intention to be carbon neutral by 2040 - ignored huge opposition to the solar farm as well as their own expert advice to vote it through

Planners at Dorset Council – which has declared a climate emergency and its intention to be carbon neutral by 2040 – ignored huge opposition to the solar farm as well as their own expert advice to vote it through

The plans for the solar farm show how it will span 190 acres in Dorset

The plans for the solar farm show how it will span 190 acres in Dorset

Other concerns have also been expressed about the panels increasing existing flooding problems in the area.

Farmer Anthony Cake, whose family have farmed the land next to the solar site for 120 years, said he feared the solar farm will make flooding worse and could put their home and business at risk.

But Fran Button, from British Solar Renewables, said the scheme would have a positive impact on the planet and create local jobs.

She said: ‘You only have to look at…the fires burning in Europe to realise that we have a real climate emergency and the time to act is now.

Other concerns have also been expressed about the panels increasing existing flooding problems in the area

Other concerns have also been expressed about the panels increasing existing flooding problems in the area

‘Renewable energy can be part of that solution.’

Members of Dorset Council’s planning committee acknowledged that the solar farm would have a detrimental impact on the landscape and AONB setting but said that was outweighed by the renewable energy benefits.

Dorset has had multiple solar farms approved in the last few years, with sites at Spetisbury, Longburton and Sherborne already built that can generate enough power for 35,600 homes.

The Spetisbury solar farm upset locals when it was revealed the electricity generated would not benefit Dorset as French energy firm Voltalia had struck a deal with the City of London Corporation, which runs the capital’s financial district, to funnel all the energy to London if the corporation funded the construction.

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