Solar Farms – Report of Parish Meeting

This article should have been posted last week but was overlooked. My apologies for that error. DCB

Plans by three developers to install solar farms on up to 300 acres in the Essex countryside led to a special meeting of the Parish Council for Foxearth and Liston at which  80 to 90 residents, including some from Pentlow, Belchamp St Paul and Belchamp Otten, attended to voice their serious concerns. The meeting was held on 3rd October and was opened by Council Chairman Clive Waite giving a comprehensive review of the situation.

Cllr. Waite explained that Braintree District Council had received planning applications for solar farms to be erected on valuable Grade 2 arable land. Each of these plants would provide power to the National Grid via the Belchamp St Paul sub station which – it was understood – had a capacity considerably in excess of the contribution these plants would make suggesting that they could be the tip of an iceberg. Some 20 acres of the land involved is within Foxearth parish. The Parish Council fully supported the need for renewable energy supplies and accepted that solar farms had significant advantages over other “green” sources by being silent, producing no by-products and being low maintenance; the council did not wish to ban them but was very concerned about attempts to put them on prime food-producing land. He drew attention to the District Council’s core strategy which insists that agricultural land must be reserved for arable farming but there appeared to be a lack of any sort of policy to protect this principle. Government guidelines about when planning authorities should seek an environmental impact assessment make no mention of solar farms in any respect and the regulations appear to be utterly confused. There was great urgency in this matter as the District Council would be expected to come to a decision on the applications in just over one month’s time.

Members of the audience were invited to comment and there was a marked absence of hesitancy! There was a free discussion to which Brooks Newmark, Braintree MP, David Finch, Leader of Essex CC and Julian Swift, Braintree DC councillor made informed and valuable contributions. Particular points which emerged were serious doubts about the so-called 25 year life of the farms since they would turn green field sites into brown ones possibly leading to a variety of uses: the proximity of the Belchamp St Paul sub station was clearly a factor influencing the developers: solar energy should be “harvested” in urban areas by using large roof spaces: solar farms with their 2.5m perimeter fences and CCTV systems would be a blot on an idyllic country landscape. With understandable irony one resident living near the land in question related how, about 25 years  ago, planning permission was refused for a double garage on the grounds that it would not be in keeping!

Brooks Newmark emphasised government’s commitment to a balanced energy policy in which renewables would play their part but stressed that this must have regard to the needs of local communities and their environment. He considered that siting solar farms on land falling within the top 21% of high-grade food-producing land in the country to be absolutely unthinkable and he was doing his utmost to promote this view. He distributed copies of a petition he had drawn up which he intended to present to Parliament in the next few weeks. This calls upon the Government to consider its policy respecting the installation of ground based solar arrays in the countryside.

In conclusion the Chairman explained that the four parish councils concerned proposed to form a joint committee to work for the formation of effective policies to provide protection for local communities such that the development of solar farms is proportionate and in line with government targets and takes account of size, the effect on farming, their visual impact, compatibility with local development plan etc.

The Chairman and Cllr David Busby were unanimously elected by the Parish Council as its representatives on this committee.

The Chairman thanked all for their attendance and contributions.

Ken Nice

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