Freshford Hall, Staples Hill, Freshford, Bath
Freshford Hall is a Grade II early 19th century house, situated within the Green Belt and Cotswolds AONB. It is located immediately south of the Freshford village conservation area. The proposed area of works is the field to the north of Freshford Hall, which sits at a south-north slope running towards the junction with the main road heading into Freshford. The site forms part of the open, agrarian character and appearance of the area that forms the landscape setting of Freshford, and contributes to the special qualities of the AONB. The proposed site of the solar array would be visible in passing views from the road, and is fairly exposed to mid-range views from the north moving towards Freshford, though it is noted that the north-east corner is partially screened by a cluster of trees planted within the hedgerow.
In light of the declared Climate Emergency, BPT recognises the need for sensitive energy efficiency retrofits and microrenewable installations to meet B&NES targets of net zero by 2030. In this case, we maintain that the proposed solar array would be of some visibility as part of wider landscape views through the Green Belt and AONB, and therefore requires proportionate assessment as to the degree of visibility and associated impact on wider landscape appearance and character. We would expect a planning application to recognise this and make an assessment of any (even if no) visual impact, given these landscape designations and planning policy considerations.
The proposed solar array would be set away from the immediate setting of the listed building and would be well-screened in views from either the building or its immediate garden setting by the thick belt of mature trees to the south of the proposed solar array location, though it is noted that some views of the array may be partially retained from the far western end of the garden. Given the degree of setback and use of existing planting to minimise views, development would therefore result in the lower end of less than substantial harm to the listed building, outweighed by the public benefits of on-site generation of ‘green’ energy, improved sustainability, and potentially reduced energy costs for residents, particularly prudent in light of the cost of living crisis.
When assessing the balance of heritage impact (on the setting of the heritage assets) versus public benefit, we consider that this application offers benefit in the form of decarbonised energy generation and contributions towards the council’s sustainability objectives, to be greater than less than substantial harm.
The site would be visible in mid-range landscape views to the north and cumulatively forms part of the undeveloped agricultural setting of Freshford, which is specifically recognised as part of the special interest of the conservation area. There is potential that the introduction of PV panels could have some impact on these landscape views by introducing an incongruous built element at odds with its agrarian setting. We note that the panels would be more discreetly located at the northernmost end of the slope, and as such would be of reduced visibility in comparison with the elevated southern portion of the site. The proposed addition of mitigatory shrub and tree planting on the north-east corner would further screen the panels from view and subsequently mitigate impact on landscape views and character.
We maintain that the success of this measure would be dependent on ensuring that the proposed planting is appropriately undertaken and managed to ensure it thrives. Where possible, we recommend that any granting of planning permission is accompanied by appropriate monitoring works by the local planning authority to ensure that planting works are undertaken and maintained.
We further recommend the submission of material details to ensure that visual impact is mitigated as far as practicable. We strongly advise the use of non-reflective panels in a monochrome, matt black finish to minimise an incongruity of form and materials.