MOTORISTS may by the middle of next year be able to charge their electric vehicles at the Blandford Hill Eco Hub just outside Winterborne Whitechurch.

A scheme to provide an electric vehicle charging station powered by a solar farm on the A354 Blandford to Dorchester road was described as innovative and exciting when it was approved by Dorset councillors at their Strategic Planning committee meeting in January.

They had earlier in the day rejected proposals for a solar farm at Park Farm, Gillingham, on the grounds of its harm to the historic rural landscape.

But the plans submitted by Naturalis for the fields east of Whitechurch, which attracted multiple local objections, were welcomed by Sherry Jespersen, chairman of the Northern Planning committee in whose area it lies, as “a good example of a proposal being amended in the light of comment, and our officers negotiating with the applicants.”

She said: “This is how planning is supposed to work. Of course there will be impact on the landscape, but this has been mitigated effectively, and we have to look to the future.”

The £10m proposal, for a 20 hectare solar installation together with ‘eco-hub’ including rapid and ultra-rapid charging stations, toilets, shop, café, and a wild flower meadow, will produce sufficient renewable energy to power the equivalent of 4000 homes a year over its 40 year lifespan and will double the number of ultra-fast charging points between Salisbury and Weymouth filling a regional gap in EV charging provision.

It is expected to be fully operational by mid- to late-2023.

The original application submitted in July last year had initially attracted a large number of objections, from local residents as well as from statutory consultees including Historic England, Natural England, the Dorset Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and some of the council’s own officers.

But revised proposals limiting the extent of the solar installation, reducing the size of the eco-hub building and increasing the amount of landscaping lessened some of the opposition both locally and from statutory consultees.

Some objections were raised at the meeting, by Ian Bruce who fully supported the solar park but said there was no compelling case to put all three components together, and the storage and charging units would be better sited near retail and leisure facilities.

Julien Turner said the scheme would make a relatively small contribution to Dorset’s renewable energy target, but Angela Erkan supported, saying she was thinking of children and grandchildren and greener ways of protecting the planet, and that the café and shop would be an asset to the village.

Former parish councillor, Martyn Gleaden, said it would have little detrimental effect but lots of benefits, and the land, which did not produce significant income, might otherwise be sold for development.

The application was approved subject to a raft of conditions on the grounds that the benefits outweighed disadvantages of harm to scheduled ancient monuments, adverse impacts on the local landscape and the setting of Dorset AONB, and loss of grade 3a agricultural land.

Following the approval, Matt Partridge, Development Director for the project said: “The Government’s ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars is only a few years away. Electric vehicle sales are already growing rapidly but in order to enable a smooth transition away from cars powered by petrol and diesel, it is widely recognised that a timely roll-out of EV charging infrastructure will be absolutely critical. The Blandford Hill Eco Hub will make an important contribution towards this aim in a rural part of Dorset, where most people rely on their cars, by allowing up to 19 electrical vehicles to charge simultaneously. The Hub will enable drivers to power up their vehicles with zero-carbon electricity, thanks to the integrated solar farm that will be connected to the car chargers.”