Heritage experts say plans for solar farm outside Ludlow should be refused or deferred

Kronos Solar has submitted plans for a 33-acre solar farm adjacent between Henley Hall and Ledwyche on the outskirts of Ludlow. Now heritage experts say the scheme should be rejected or deferred because the assessment of the impact of the development on heritage assets, especially Henley Hall park, is inadequate. Historic England says it is currently “unable to support” the scheme.

In its comment published yesterday, Historic England says:

The proposed development is situated directly adjacent to the Grade II Registered Park and Garden Henley Hall, which itself contains a number of listed structures including the Grade II* Henley Hall and the Grade II listed Park House. The proposed development falls within the setting of Grade II Henley Hall Park. We consider that given the extent and nature of the proposed development, and its location immediately adjacent to the boundary of the Registered park, the proposed development would cause harm to the significance of the heritage asset as a consequence of development within its setting.

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The impact of developments on heritage is vitally important in planning.[1] Decision makers must give special consideration and considerable weight to impact on heritage assets, particularly if they are listed buildings or ancient monuments. But even non-listed heritage assets – buildings and features of local interest but not national importance – have a degree of protection under the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).

Historic England says:

The proposed development of approximately 22,000 ground mounted solar panels could potentially impact and cause harm to the significance of designated heritage assets. Whilst the application does contain a Historic Environment Assessment we not consider it to contain a sufficient analysis of the significance of the park or the designated assets within.

The Assessment of the assets’ setting is also lacking in an understanding of the relationship both historic and present with the surrounding landscape. In particular we disagree with the assessment’s conclusions regarding indirect impacts and are particularly concerned that the application fails to recognise the significance of the deer park and Park House nor the potential impact the proposals may have upon them. The application is lacking any visual montages of views from within the parkland and the listed structures.

Faced with this failure to provide what Historic England regards as an adequate Historic Environment Assessment, the heritage champion concludes:

Given the application’s failure to identify and address fully the potential impact of the proposals upon the designated heritage assets, we are unable to support this application.

Addressing Shropshire Council, Historic England says the application should be refused or deferred:

We recommend that the application is refused or differed [sic] until such a time as the requirements of para 128 of the NPPF have been met with the required additional information and our further advice sought.

Shropshire Council’s historic environment team agree with Historic England but go further in giving a provisional view on the degree of harm caused to the setting of Henley Hall:

Our provisional view, subject to the submission of more detailed information to clarify the matter, is that this would amount to ‘less than substantial harm’.

It is important not to get confused by jargon here. There are two types of harm to heritage assets: ‘less than substantial’ and ‘substantial’. Even if the harm is less than substantial, this is still a very important consideration in planning decisions (see my explainer).

On Thursday, the Shropshire Council planning officer overseeing this scheme told the Ludlow and Clee Local Joint Committee that he had not decided whether to recommend approval or rejection because he was awaiting advice from Historic England and Shropshire Council’s heritage team. He is due to make a decision on his recommendation to the South Planning Committee by midday Monday.

Rather than recommend approval or rejection, he could advise Kronos Solar to accept a deferral until the company has produced a historic environment assessment that is acceptable to heritage experts.

Notes

[1]. Unfortunately Historic England remains in the dark ages on open government data, so I can’t reproduce its online map of heritage assets around Henley Hall – even though it’s a map produced by a government body for a public purpose with public funds.