Cate Blanchett's £5 million 'haunted' Sussex mansion: actress given go-ahead to build nearly 90 solar panels

The home had been abandoned for more than a decade after once being home to Sherlock Holmes creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Highwell House, Crowborough (Wealden District Council  / SWNS/ Getty)Highwell House, Crowborough (Wealden District Council  / SWNS/ Getty)
Highwell House, Crowborough (Wealden District Council / SWNS/ Getty)

Hollywood star Cate Blanchett has received approval to bring green renewable energy to her project home. One of two luxury homes the actress is currently having work done at, the Sussex mansion will see nearly 90 solar panels built to power the £5 million home.

The Lord of the Rings star, 54, and her playwright husband Andrew Upton, 57, want to install a solar panel array and extend the plant room in the 13-acre grounds of 'haunted' Highwell House. The celebrity couple have now been granted planning permission to build 90 panels on agricultural land to the south of the main Victorian mansion in Crowborough in East Sussex.

And after a long battle to secure planning permission for their latest development at their Sussex home, Ms Blanchett and her husband have finally been given the green-light after satisfying multiple conditions.

An ecological survey had identified 'mitigation' that was required to protect the great-crested newts (GCN) and other species that would be affected by the digging of 'trenches' to house the connecting cables. They were told they must also obtain an additional 'District Licence' to avoid being in breach of the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act.

This law makes it an offence for anyone to "intentionally or recklessly disturb, harm or kill great crested newts, or damage, destroy or obstruct their breeding and resting places."

Blanchett bought the home in 2015 for an estimated £5m. It had been abandoned for more than a decade after once being home to Sherlock Holmes creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Doctor Who actor Tom Baker.

View towards existing garage at the mansionView towards existing garage at the mansion
View towards existing garage at the mansion

The news comes just days after locals hit out at the couple over the renovations to their eco-home cottage in Cornwall. Blanchett bought that £1.6 million cottage in Mawgan Porth three years ago with her husband and has since demolished the original structure to replace it with a five-bedroom eco-home.

But the ongoing renovations have angered her neighbours with the noise reportedly making the residents lives hell - and turning visitors away from the popular tourism beauty spot.

The Sussex property has since undergone major refurbishment. Her plans to build an outdoor pool were approved in March last year while in 2021 she was also given the go-ahead to build a home office/studio and gallery in the garden.

Her latest application has now been approved by Wealden District Council today (Thurs 26/10) under delegated powers, subject to multiple conditions, after the couple satisfied all the concerns that were raised.

Planners said the proposed solar panel array, as amended, would be "discreetly located" and said the "replacement plant room would be an enhancement on the existing one.

Planning documents show the 2.5m high panels will be arranged in two rows and are intended to generate a sustainable energy supply to the main house and outbuildings on the site.

But the ecology report - commissioned by Ms Blanchett and her husband themselves, raised issues that need to be addressed.

Ecosupport Ltd said it was instructed to identify any potentially important ecological features that may be affected by the proposed development.

After undertaking a number of surveys, they found a 'high potential' for impact on the newts with potential impact also possible on reptile species, foraging and commuting bats and badgers and breeding and nesting birds.

The report stated: "In the absence of any mitigation measures, the proposed development is anticipated to result in certain adverse impacts."

As part of the scheme, temporary trenches were also needed to connect the electrical supply to the plant room and cable installation to the panels.

Blanchett and her husband agreed to apply for a special 'District Licence' to allow work to be carried out. Under the licence habitat compensation will also provided by the Newt Conservation Partnership.

The ecology report added: "The proposed works will require the creation of excavations. This may lead to badgers and other mammals becoming trapped or injured during the works. Therefore, in the absence of mitigation, an adverse impact is possible.

"During construction, any excavations on site should be covered nightly and/or include a suitable escape ramp for the protection of wildlife, eg, badgers and hedgehogs.

"The proposed works could result in disturbance of nesting birds and damage to their nests if conducted during the nesting season as the works are in close proximity of suitable breeding and nesting habitat."

The celebrity couple's agent Whaleback Planning & Design said in a statement to support the application: "Overall, the proposal represents a small-scale renewable energy system that would contribute to the UK’s commitment to reducing carbon emissions.

"The visual impact of the proposed solar installation has been fully considered through a Landscape Visual Assessment and the proposed layout has been carefully designed and positioned so as to conserve the landscape character of the area, and views from local vantage points along with additional screening planting via nature hedgerow improvements and scrub."

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