The Facts: Cultural Heritage

Damage to cultural heritage

As we move closer to the AVDC Hearing on March 20th, at which the AVDC Councillors will determine whether to approve or reject the Dorcas Lane wind farm, we bring you the next Newsletter Fact Sheet. In this edition we highlight more reasons why the application is an ill-conceived energy development, this time focusing upon the damage that the turbines will do to the cultural heritage of the region.

Ancient treasures of our rural landscape

Each of the six affected villages has at its heart both a centuries-old Church, nationally designated as either Grade II* or Grade I, and a locally designated Conservation Area which includes other listed buildings. The Dorcas Lane site is literally surrounded by priceless cultural heritage assets that record a thousand year history of these settlements

There would be significant adverse impacts on these protected buildings and areas, and in particular on their settings which are afforded equally protected status in law. Here we summarise some key aspects.

Conflict with national and local policy

These adverse impacts are contrary to the general duty under Section 66 of the 1990 Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act and specific provisions in a number of saved policies of the AVDC Local Development Plan. Consequently they constitute material planning considerations for which no satisfactory mitigation is available.

AVDC has been faced with the same considerations in January 2013 when determining the Ford and Dinton wind farm application. There it refused consent for just a single and smaller turbine in similar open undulating landscape. Crucial to its decision was the report from the Historic Buildings Officer, who concluded:

I would therefore suggest that in simple terms the insertion of a structure of the proposed size (101.5m) cannot but have an adverse impact on the setting of the various historic assets in the immediate vicinity; it will not preserve the settings of listed structures... if the definition of setting is widely drawn and a high level of significance is attributed to the nature of the undulating lowland countryside in this part of Aylesbury Vale then this will be adversely affected by the proposal.

SDLT contend that the six listed Churches and six Conservation Areas (containing other listed buildings settings) will be irreparably damaged by the erection of a cluster of four even larger turbines (125m) at a location which will be visible from each heritage asset.

The six parish churches

Buckinghamshire is a county of parish churches and chapels. Its historic towns and villages are small and this is reflected in the development of its parish churches. These were built by the inhabitants of these settlements using local materials. The churches sit well in their landscapes reflecting the labour and sensibility of those early farmers. All six are within 3.6km of the Dorcas Lane turbines, with two much closer.

Each church and its setting work in harmony with the villages and surrounding landscape. That landscape is currently devoid of industrialised development, including vertical features such as electricity pylons. Instead it comprises arable and grazing land with well-maintained hedgerows. This landscape quality would still be recognisable to the men who built these churches centuries ago. We contend that the historic settings of all six of these churches, set as they are in open countryside and visible to and from the Dorcas Lane site, will be adversely impacted in conflict with both national and local planning policies.

The applicant, developer Force 9 Energy (F9E) and its energy company partner Électricité de France (EDF), has failed to submit any form of visual impact assessment of the proposed development upon the six churches, which are:

Village/Church Listed Distance
Great Brickhill: St Mary Grade II* 3.5km
Newton Longville: St Faith Grade I 3.5km
Drayton Parslow: Holy Trinity Grade II* 3.6km
Stewkley: St Michael Grade I 3.0km
Soulbury: All Saints Grade II* 1.75km
Stoke Hammond: St Luke Grade II* 1.1km

NOTE: Newton Longville Church is classified Grade I not Grade II as originally stated on our newsletter. This is a very important correction. It now means that of the six Churches, we have two (Stewkley and Newton Longville) that are Grade I and the other four Grade II*.

The six conservation areas

Each of the six villages has at its core a Conservation Area which captures and conserves their historic identity. Each of the Areas reflects that these six villages were once rural farming communities and each is protected by the Local Development Plan. It is material to point out that the custodians of all the churches and all the listed properties in the Conservation Areas are subject to stringent regulation and restriction on any change that can be made to them. It is therefore open to question how it can be permissible for any speculative wind farm developer to evade such rigorous control?

English Heritage guidance is relevant here in stating that:

...setting embraces all the surroundings from which the heritage asset can be experienced or that can be experienced from or with the asset. Setting does not have a fixed boundary and cannot be definitively and permanently described as spatially bounded area or as lying within a set distance of a heritage asset.

The special attributes and reasons for designation of each of these Areas and the many listed buildings within them are fully described in our detailed submission to the AVDC. It is readily apparent that the setting of all of these Conservation Areas must be affected by the erection of four 125m high rotating turbines in this ancient environment.

Impact on footpaths and bridleways

Finally we touch on an aspect of cultural heritage that is often overlooked but has been accorded special protection by Appeal hearings when determining the adverse impacts of wind turbines upon them. Regional and local footpaths and bridleways are a well-used and valued part of our local landscape.

The proposed turbines would be located in a rural location 1km from the nearest major road but would be visible from numerous points on the surrounding network of footpaths and bridleways. In particular the full extent of the four turbines would be visible at close quarters from the three footpaths which run along the northern and southern boundaries and through the western half of the site. From the Dorcas Lane bridleway there is an extremely fine panoramic view towards the Chiltern Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) which will be obstructed by the turbines. Equally there are fine views of the Brickhills Area of Attractive Landscape and from the Cross-Bucks Way across the rural landscape of north Buckinghamshire. The proposed turbines, with their stark utilitarian appearance, will have an overwhelmingly harmful impact on each of these views.

We contend that the significant harm caused to the natural beauty of the landscape in this part of the Vale, to the Brickhills Area of Attractive Landscape, and the wider impact on the Chiltern AONB is in conflict with AVDC saved policies. National Planning Policy states that great weight should be attached to the landscape and scenic beauty of any AONB. There is no benefit from this development which outweighs these considerations, the harm caused is obvious and there is no possible mitigation.

Conclusion

It is therefore undeniably the case that the Dorcas Lane development will substantially harm the settings of listed buildings, the Conservation Areas, and the public rights of way in our local landscape. These assets have been afforded highly-protected status, as befits their age and special importance.

In addition to their statutory protection, they are highly valued by local residents who vigorously oppose this development and the damage to our cultural heritage adds itself to the long list of reasons why this application should be rejected.