AFTER 12 days at The Exchange at Sturminster Newton, and a series of site visits and visits to surrounding viewpoints, planning inspector Neil Pope has decided that the potential benefits of erecting four giant wind turbines on farmland between Silton and Bourton on the Dorset-Somerset-Wiltshire borders would be outweighed by the harm the windfarm would cause to the character and appearance of the area and the setting of the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty of Cranborne Chase and the West Wiltshire Downs.
In an earlier-than-expected decision, Mr Pope said he had to balance the environmental impact against the benefit of the new development, refused by North Dorset District councillors who went against their officers' recommendations.
He gave "considerable weight" to the Bourton – Dorset Village Design Statement, published in September last year, which described the distinctive character of the village and surrounding countryside, describing the key views as "particularly treasured by the local community".
The character and appearance of the are was the first main issue, he said. The Environmental Statement, a key document in those submitted to the inquiry, noted that "there were very few vertical elements in this area which are taller than wood poles" in a landscape characterised by "undulating clay vales and low rounded limestone ridges fringed by scarp hills."
"The site forms part of the panoramic views across the Blackmore Vale from the AONB," wrote Mr Pope. " I concur with the (district council) that the character of the local landscape depends in part on the topographic relationship between the Vale and the surrounding hills" and "the site has a high visual sensitivity to wind farm development."
The site could be seen from numerous public vantage points in and around the Blackmore Vale, and many of these were open views from higher ground, popular with visitors and valued by local residents.
Drastically at odds
"It is self evident that four turbines up to 120m high would be extremely conspicuous and would dominate the immediate surroundings," he said.
They would seriously harm the character and appearance of the area, and this "failure to integrate with the distinctive landscape character of the area would be contrary to policy."
"Whatever opinion is formed on the attractiveness of these structures, they would be drastically at odds with the character and appearance of the local landscape."
Mr Pope commented on the sense of tranquillity that was not spoiled by the "inconspicuous" main line railway or main roads.
The impacts of the turbines could not be outweighed by their potential benefits or mitigated by planning conditions.
The setting of "heritage assets" – Silton Church, Silton House, Manor Farm and Wyndham's Oak in particular – was Mr Pope's next consideration.
He was unable to exclude the possibility that parts of the turbines would be visible from the churchyard of the Grade I listed St Nicholas' Church, and they would be visible from the public right of way leading to the church.
The turbines would be set back a considerable distance from the church and Silton House but would be perceived as "towering above" the former rectory, disrupting an appreciation of this "cluster of heritage assets," substantially harming the siting of a building recognised as being of exceptional interest.
The "temporary nature" of the development (25 years) would result in substantial harm to the setting of the church and Silton House, and it could not be overcome by planning conditions.
The inspector agreed that the turbines would be conspicuous in the vistas of the nearest residents, but did not feel that the presence of the wind farm would make their homes unattractive places to live.
He also addressed the issue of tourism. "There is little doubt in my mind that some (potential holidaymakers) would be deterred from using the business premises (close to the proposed wind farm site) if the proposed wind turbines were built," said Mr Pope, but he also accepted research from other areas which showed that the effect was likely to be less than that feared.
He mentioned another site (near Wool) where four turbines have recently been permitted, but said that no two sites are the same and these two are materially different.
Ecotricity estimated that the proposed turbines could provide sufficient electricity to meet thee annual needs of between 4,600 and 6,340 typical UK households.
"Even small scale projects are recognised as providing a valuable contribution to cutting greenhouse gas emissions," he said.
His job was to balance the benefits against the harm.
"When I undertake the balancing exercise in respect of the scheme before me, I find that the harm to the character and appearance of the area and the setting of heritage assets would be unacceptable and overriding.
"These adverse effect would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits."
Mr Pope found that the impacts of the scheme would be unacceptable and could not be made acceptable. Whatever approach he took to the issues raised, the result was the same.
Therefore he refused the appeal.