No scrum for new solar farm with North Dorset rugby club

Slaughtergate Farm in Gillingham has recently become one of the latest farms in North Dorset to rent out a small percentage of its land to UK solar power generator, Lightsource Renewable Energy. The land will now accommodate a solar farm generating 1.8 MW of green energy — the equivalent of enough energy for around 537 households (approximately one tenth of the population of Gillingham) and annual CO2 savings of 916,119 kg. The story behind the new solar farm started back in July 2012 at a well-attended community consultation event held at the North Dorset Rugby Club.

About 75 residents attended to hear about the proposal, some concerns were expressed around potential visibility, but by far the biggest bone of contention was the local concern that the club’s own rugby fields would be used to accommodate the solar farm. This crucial point was discussed and clarified during the public consultation event where Lightsource confirmed that the club grounds would not be affected in any way. As further assurances were presented about screening and enhancing local biodiversity through additional planting of hedgerows, objections quickly fell away.

The planning application for the Slaughtergate Farm site proceeded to run smoothly, with unanimous support from North Dorset District Council. No objections were raised by statutory consultees Gillingham Town Council, Silton Parish Council, the Environment Agency, the county council’s Archaeological Officer, or English Heritage. Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), who routinely object to most field based solar farms, submitted a neutral consultation response noting that the solar farm would be visually contained within the site. Planning permission was subsequently granted by North Dorset District Council at the end of October 2012.

Conor McGuigan, Business Development Director for Lightsource, comments, “When we develop a new solar farm, we are entering into an agreement with the landowner and council for a period of 25 years, therefore it is imperative that we address any concerns such as those voiced at the community consultation at Gillingham. Such forums allow constructive debate to take place, and give us the opportunity to allay people’s fears in the majority of cases. It is after all in our own best interests to work with the council and address local concerns collectively in order to gain the planning permission we seek and build strong relationships with the local residents that are going to be our long-term neighbours.”

In accordance with the plans it submitted, Lightsource will now be planting an entire new hedgerow along the eastern boundary of the solar farm and providing additional planting where any gaps occur in existing hedges. The screening measures undertaken and topography of the land will ensure that the solar farm will not be visible from the neighbouring rugby club and the scheduled ancient monument — Slaughter Barrow- which lies about 415m to the east of the site.

Bird and bat boxes will be installed and gaps will be left under the deer fencing that will surround the infrastructure of the solar farm so that small mammals such as badgers can continue to come and go as they please. Weather permitting, it is hoped that construction will take approximately 8 weeks to complete from now.

It goes without saying that the atrocious weather throughout 2012 has put many farmers to the test. However, as at Slaughtergate Farm, increasing numbers have been discovering a way to reap a weatherproof, guaranteed income over a 25 year period — at no costs to themselves. They can achieve this by renting out land or roof space to Lightsource, the UK’s largest solar energy generator. There is no risk of any default on rental payments because Lightsource is backed by 25 year government investment schemes, making it a guaranteed secure tenant.

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