Solar farm sparks fears for 'Stonehenge of the North'
A GOVERNMENT service which champions England's heritage has condemned a scheme to site a 960-panel solar farm near the most important ancient site between Stonehenge and the Orkney Islands.
Historic England said the small-scale renewable energy scheme at East Tanfield, near Ripon, could harm the neighbouring Thornborough Henge Scheduled Monument complex, which featured ritual structures, massive circular ditches and banks dating back 4,000 years to the Bronze Age.
North Yorkshire County Council archaeologist Lucie Hawkins has called for the application to be withdrawn, stating she was disappointed the plan had been submitted to Hambleton District Council without any assessment of the impact on the historic environment.
Development consultants Arrowsmith Associates said Richard Alton, the owner of Rushwood Hall, once the seat of the Nussey baronetcy and home to Teesside steelworks artist Viva Talbot, was seeking to provide energy for the crop services business based at the hall and a number of cottages.
A spokesman for the firm said the application site, 500 metres from the henges and medieval village, was not close enough to either of these to have any impact on them.
He added the solar panels would be completely screened by trees and their impact on the landscape, which also includes East Tanfield deserted medieval village, would be negligible.
He said: "What public views would exist would be seen in the context of an ever increasing acceptance that such sites are part of the modern rural landscape, as supported by government policy."
Objecting to the scheme, Historic England said the solar panels would represent "a distinctly modern intervention" in a sensitive landscape of regional, national and international historical significance, with the henge complex being "one of the pre-eminent prehistoric landscape complexes in Britain".
Its ancient monuments inspector Keith Emerick said: "The henges are part of a ritual landscape that extends beyond the surrounding wetlands to Catterick in the north and south to Ferrybridge.
"Only four henge sites in the British Isles are larger, all in Wiltshire and Dorset, and nowhere else are there three closely-spaced and identical henge monuments. The northernmost henge is believed to be the best-preserved henge monument in the country."
Mr Emerick said part of the site's importance was that it was located within a bowl, which had a lack of "overtly modern intrusion".
Proposals to screen the site, he said, a regional hub in the social, economic and religious life of many widely dispersed groups in the Neolithic era, were temporary and changeable.