The recent news that East Lindsey District Council have voted to allow the development of in the region of 600 solar panels at the registered English Civil War battlefield of Winceby in Lincolnshire is causing concern among battlefield archaeologists and other heritage and environmental groups. Surprise has also been expressed that English Heritage did not oppose the scheme in spite of the development being within the Registered Battlefield. The National Planning Policy Framework [NPPF], which forms the framework for all decision making in planning, states that any development causing substantial harm to the site or setting of a Registered Battlefield should be “wholly exceptional”.
A number of Battlefield experts have suggested that the solar arrays will be sited in an area where the cavalry on the right wing of the Parliamentary army formed up before the battle and that a large solar array, with the security fencing and other ancillary facilities such a site requires, could impact adversely on both the context and understanding of what had been an open rural site. Again, factors which are meant to be considered as significant under the terms of the NPPF.
The controversial development at Winceby comes as the Battlefields Trust and others campaigning for the conservation and understanding of the UK’s rare and threatened battlefield sites are becoming increasingly concerned that the limited protection the non statutory registration of battlefield sites offers under the planning regime is not an adequate defence against short term planning decisions which can change a site irreversibly. East Lindsey’s decision, comes soon after the controversy over development on the alleged site of the battle of Fulford outside York and the threats to the battlefield at Northampton and Edgecote from development. Thus campaigners and battlefield scholars fear the Winceby decision could set a dangerous precedent.
Indeed, at the time of writing a recognised, but unregistered, Wars of the Roses battlefield site at Nibley Green in Gloucestershire is also under threat from a similar Green Energy scheme which will cover the likely area of fighting which involved some 1500 soldiers and a similar site at Norton St Phillip in Somerset associated with the Monmouth rebellion of 1685 is also threatened by a housing development. Although in that instance English Heritage are opposing the development, albeit on other heritage grounds.
East Lindsey Council has added an archaeological condition to the Winceby development and in its reaction to the decision the Battlefields Trust has stated that “…the Trust will now engage with East Lindsey District Council to ensure this is conducted to the highest battlefield archaeology standards.”
An English Heritage spokesperson commented that the organisation, the Government’s statutory advisor on heritage matters, did not oppose the development at Winceby because
“In this case the proposed development is relatively small and adjacent to existing farm buildings, it does not dominate the main views across the battlefield nor on the available evidence is it likely to disturb archaeological remains.”
However, this is unlikely to satisfy critics who see the Winceby decision as a defeat for the conservation lobby in the latest skirmish over Britain’s historic battlefields.