The New Forest National Park Authority planning committee has unanimously refused plans brought forward by developer Enviromena for a major solar development on a greenfield site in the New Forest National Park.

Enviromena manages, operates and maintains over 300MW of renewable energy assets and has a pipeline of 2GW throughout the UK and Europe.

The proposal for a 9.85 hectare solar farm with two substations was said to go against national policy, primary legislation and the adopted New Forest National Park Local Plan. The National Park Authority took the view that the solar farm, to be situated at Thornlands Farm in Netley Marsh, constituted a ‘major development’.

National parks have the highest level of protection in relation to landscape and scenic beauty and they are designated by the Government to conserve and enhance the area.

National planning policy and associated guidance make it clear that environmental protections are not overridden by the need for renewables development; government planning policy states that the scale and extent of development within national parks should be limited.

Generally, planning permission is refused for major developments in national parks except under exceptional circumstances and where it can be demonstrated that the development is in public interest.

The National Park Authority planning officer’s report said that while providing renewable energy was a benefit of the scheme, the applicants had not demonstrated that the site needed to be specifically located within the New Forest National Park and it was not linked to providing energy to a local business or community.  

National Park planning policies support small scale schemes to provide renewable energy for local households, businesses and community facilities. Renewable energy projects within the New Forest National Park that are consistent with that emphasis on small-scale developments are supported by the park authority.

This year it has granted planning permission for solar panels on car ports at Paultons Park in Ower and a 48-panel solar farm in Bartley, amongst others.

Chair of the New Forest NPA Planning Committee Gordon Bailey said: “The Committee decided to refuse this application as the scale of it was not considered to be appropriate in the protected National Park landscape setting and the applicant hadn’t adequately demonstrated that it needed to be located here rather than on an alternative site outside the National Park.”

A green light in Dorset

Enviromena has however secured planning permission for what it says will be its largest self-developed solar project in Christchurch, Dorset. Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole (BCP) Council planners approved the 66 hectare Parley Court Solar Farm site, representing a major milestone for the clean energy company.

The 42.43 MWp project has been in the planning process since November 2021.

Mark Harding, European development director at Enviromena, said: “We are delighted to secure planning permission for our largest UK solar development to date. With further projects totalling circa 200MW submitted into the planning process in the past few months and a further 300MW expected to be submitted into planning by the end of the summer, we hope that this is the first of many planning consents secured across our self-development pipeline in 2024.”

He added: “BCP Council has been really forward-thinking and it’s been fantastic to see a local authority be so proactive when it comes to climate change driven initiatives. The fact is the site will help to address both local and national renewable energy targets”.