Plans for solar farm next to Roman village are REJECTED

Campaigners celebrate as plans to build ‘eyesore’ solar farm the size of 120 football pitches next to ancient Roman village of Silchester are REJECTED

  • Nearly 700 people launched a campaign against proposals to build the solar panel farm in the countryside
  • A planning committee voted against the ‘enormous’ site which would have prevented further excavations
  • Silchester village was described as ‘unquestionably one of England’s most important ancient monuments’

Campaigners were today celebrating after plans to build an ‘eyesore’ solar farm the size of 120 football pitches next to one of Britain’s best preserved Roman towns were rejected.

Nearly 700 people, including a leading Roman Britain expert, launched a campaign against proposals to build the ‘enormous’ solar panel farm in the countryside.

The neighbouring Roman village of Silchester, described as ‘unquestionably one of England’s most important ancient monuments’, was under threat as the ‘industrial plant’ would have prevented further excavations.

But last night a planning committee voted overwhelmingly against the site – which would have been twice the size of Vatican City.

Delighted campaigners from the village of Silchester and the surrounding areas in Hampshire toasted a victory for the Romans following their two-year battle.

Campaigners were today celebrating after plans to build an ‘eyesore’ solar farm the size of 120 football pitches (circled in red) next to one of Britain’s best preserved Roman towns were rejected

Nearly 700 people, including a leading Roman Britain expert, launched a campaign against proposals to build the ‘enormous’ solar panel farm in the countryside

On Saturday around 60 of the campaigners with large banners turned out for a protest march along one of the walking trails and shouted ‘save our heritage’. Two campaigners turned out in full Roman outfits

One Basingstoke and Deane Borough Councillor voting against the application at a meeting last night branded it ‘the most controversial application I have seen in a long, long time’.

On Saturday, at a campaign march, two protesters turned out in full Roman outfits with banners.

Energy firm Enso Energy submitted an application to construct the 210-acre solar panel farm next to Silchester for 40 years, powering 17,000 homes and saving 8,000 cars worth of carbon dioxide.

However, Roman Britain expert Professor Michael Gordon Fulford CBE warned building it just a stone’s throw away from the Roman village, named Calleva Atrebatum, would mean the historical site is ‘lost to future research’.

The Hampshire site is home to ruins, a bathhouse and the remains of an amphitheatre. It is believed there are still discoveries to be made nearby.

Calleva Atrebatum also pre-dated the Romans and was used in the Iron Age as a settlement.

However, Roman Britain expert Professor Michael Gordon Fulford CBE warned building it just a stone’s throw away from the Roman village (pictured), named Calleva Atrebatum, would mean the historical site is ‘lost to future research’

Popular hiking trails, which run by the Silchester Roman ruins, would have been transformed into ‘man-made corridors’ which offer countryside views through 6ft metal fences, campaigners said


Energy firm Enso Energy submitted an application to construct the 210-acre solar panel farm (pictured) next to Silchester for 40 years, powering 17,000 homes and saving 8,000 cars worth of carbon dioxide

Silchester: The town ‘abandoned after Rome lost its grip on Britain’  

Aerial reconstruction drawing of Silchester circa 3rd Century

Calleva, an Iron Age town which covered more than 32 hectares, is believed to have been established between 20BC and 10 BC, possibly having been a planned settlement of people from north-west Gaul (modern France), centred around the town of Arras and the tribe of the Atrebates.

The town went on to become a major processing and trading centre where locally manufactured goods like horse and chariot gear were exchanged for metals, grain, slaves and other commodities from southern Britain – which were then passed to the Roman world in exchange for manufactured goods and luxury food.

After the Roman conquests the Atrebates kept some autonomy until the late 1st century AD.

Calleva Atrebatum, the large Roman town, developed from the mid-1st century AD from its Iron Age predecessor.

Notable buildings included public baths, an administrative centre (forum basilica), rest-house for travellers on imperial business, and an ampitheatre, while the principal streets were packed full of shops and workshops.

But Calleva Atrebatum did not later re-emerge as a town in the medieval period, unlike most major Roman towns in southern Britain.

Evidence suggests that Silchester was still flourishing at the start of the 5th century AD, when Rome lost control of Britain, and it is believed that the town could have been abandoned between 550AD and 650AD.

Prof Fulford said: ‘We know little enough about the Roman town, never mind its Iron Age predecessors, and still less about their interaction with the countryside around.

‘This proposed development threatens our ability over the medium and longer term to advance our knowledge of the landscape context of the unique monument that is Iron Age and Roman Calleva.

‘I urge you to refuse this development which substantially harms the integrity of the setting of what is unquestionably, one of England’s most important ancient monuments.’

Campaigners also warned of the impact to wildlife and that it would blight the countryside, a popular walking spot.

Popular hiking trails, which run by the Silchester Roman ruins, would have been transformed into ‘man-made corridors’ which offer countryside views through 6ft metal fences, campaigners said.

Ranil Jayawardena, Tory MP for North East Hampshire, also opposed the plans.

Cheers from campaigners were heard last night as Basingstoke and Deane Borough Councillors voted against Enso’s application 11 to 1.

Cllr Paul Harvey said: ‘This is the most controversial application I have seen in a long long time. There is no indication in any way, shape or form that this will benefit the people. I believe it would do harm.’

Cllr Chris Tomblin said the application was ‘commercial first and foremost’.

Campaigner Michael Coppen-Gardner, 51, lives with his wife and two teenage children in Silchester, around half a mile from the site.

Mr Coppen-Gardner, who runs a communications company in London, today rejoiced at the decision.

He said: ‘We are very pleased that common sense prevailed in this case. We support solar, but not at this scale, nor on good quality greenfield sites.

‘It was clear from the outset that the scale of this proposal, the detrimental impact it would have on the local landscape, the loss of good agricultural land and loss of archaeology made it doomed to fail.

‘The resolve of the residents of Silchester and Bramley should not be underestimated. We remain entirely committed to protect the landscape around us and will continue to do so to ensure the heritage of this area remains in tact.’

At last night’s meeting, Simon Wheeler, for applicant Bramley Solar Ltd, a subsidiary of Enso, argued: ‘This application has been through a very robust process.

‘Experts in their fields have made assessment and none have had any objections. Here is your chance to take action. It’s probably the single biggest action this council can take right now to tackle climate change.

Michael Coppen-Gardner and Leigh Harrison at the site in the Roman village of Silchester, Hampshire

Prof Fulford, who teaches archaeology at the University of Reading, said the Roman town of Silchester – Calleva Atrebatum – is one of only three in England that is preserved from modern development. It is considered ‘unique’ among these and has a ‘remarkable distinctiveness’ as it is the only site in England to have been developed from a major Iron Age settlement

The Forum at Silchester from the north west, circa 4th century. Prof Fulford said experts are still not sure where the boundary for the Roman town began, so to build over the area would halt our understanding

‘There is local objection, there always is, but the evidence to support this application is significant.’

Walking trails on the open fields in the area offer people a chance to see deer and six pairs of nesting red kites.

The Iron Age settlement of Calleva was once the centre of the centre of the kingdom of the Atrebates, but after a conquest in AD43 it developed into the major Roman town of Calleva Atrebatum.

Today, farmsteads, a bathhouse, the town’s defences, and the remains of an amphitheatre big enough to hold thousands of spectators for gladiator combat can still be found there.

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