Sunday, 8 February 2015

Is the proposed solar farm at Clyst St Mary to be built on 'prime agricultural land'?

There have been several unfortunate - if not crass - decisions made around solar farms of late: 

27th January 2015
East Devon, Dorset – different counties, same old stories!
Michael McCarthy in today’s Independent writes about a 24-megawatt solar farm planning proposal on Rampisham Down, Dorset “protected” by SSSI and AONB designations. Natural England objected, even the planners advised it went against the NPPF, yet two weeks ago it was voted through in an unrecorded vote. Will Eric Pickles call it in?
Here are some extracts, a link the full article is given below:
"If one were to draw up a list of the most benign technologies ever invented, it seems obvious that solar power would be near the top.
"Electricity produced merely by the action of sunlight falling on a silicon panel seems to be drawback-free – no moving parts to go wrong, no combustible materials and most important of all, no harmful emissions of noxious gases to damage human health, or wreck the Earth’s atmospheric balance. If we are to meet our commitments to deal with climate change through the switch to renewable energy, solar will be more necessary than ever.
"Yet the recent runaway expansion of the technology in Britain is now clashing headlong with nature protection in a key case in Dorset, which ultimately involves high stakes, concerning a solar farm – a concept that did not exist in the UK until five years ago….
"Rampisham Down has never been put to the plough: it is one of the largest remaining sites of what is now a very rare habitat – lowland acid grassland. It has an unusual mosaic of plants and has been declared a Site of Special Scientific Interest by Natural England, the Government’s wildlife agency. Natural England strongly objected to the proposal when it came up before West Dorset District Council, as did the Dorset Wildlife Trust, and indeed, the council’s own planning officers, who recommended rejection, pointing out that the proposal went against the National Planning Policy Framework: yet two weeks ago the council’s Development Control Committee voted it through."

17th January 2015
The Clinton Devon Estates’ Liverton Solar Park, was mentioned in a comment (copied below) recently left on the East Devon Watch blog. An observer has subsequently sent in these photos of the solar farm in question (which lies just outside the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) taken from the AONB, south of the B3178. The pictures may shed more light on the issue.

"Not far away is Liverton Park 2, and industrial and business park complex adjacent to Liverton Park (1). It struck me that the massive sheds on Liverton Park 2 might well have had solar panels built into their roofs if CDE were really green for greens sake- but it seems not. But you do get a view of the solar panels from LP2!"
Solar farms.. viewed from the AONB. | East Devon Watch

This last comment is from a piece covering the concerns of local residents about proposed developments in Clyst St Mary
Save Clyst St Mary campaign…NEW PROPOSALS AND IMPORTANT MEETING | East Devon Watch
... and which this blog too has carried:
Futures Forum: Save Clyst St Mary: next meeting Thursday 5th February

The Save Clyst St Mary campaign is not only opposed to hundreds of houses on greenfield sites
Save Clyst St Mary..next meeting, 12 Feb 2015. Hugo Swire taking an interest. | East Devon Watch

- but has come out against plans for a solar farm:

Another Solar Panel Farm Application!
January 29, 2015
A new application which has been lodged with EDDC under reference 15/0123/MFUL. This is for the installation of ground mounted photovoltaic solar arrays with inverter cabins, sub station buildings, access tracks, underground cable, fencing and CCTV. Location is Kenniford Farm (land South Of) Clyst St Mary Exeter EX5 1AQ
If you think this is inappropriate development for this area please object. Government policy is changing it April to encourage panels to be installed on the roofs of industrial units instead of prime agricultural land.
Another Solar Panel Farm Application! | Save Clyst St Mary

A blog entry at the website makes a further point:

Solar Panel Blight – Pumpkins To Panels
January 5, 2015
As someone who strongly believes that we should all being doing more to protect the environment and the planet from climate change I am a supporter of renewable energy.
However I am against switching over great swathes of prime agricultural land to solar panels as is proposed for 16 acres off Oil Mill Lane. Soon the field that is normally used to grow pumpkins to catch the Halloween market will be covered with panels as far as the eye can see.

The place for solar panels is on the roofs of commercial and industrial buildings. Fortunately the government is at last coming around to this point of view. In the article the Energy Minister says she is going to change the policy away from farm land to industrial areas. Click here to read the article
Personally I think the government should go much further and make it a planning requirement that all new commercial buildings have the maximum possible number of solar panels fitted so that these can feed into the national grid. These buildings use up green fields so by having panels on the roofs the owners are giving something back to the environment.
What do you think?
Solar Panel Blight – Pumpkins To Panels | Save Clyst St Mary

The CPRE has opposed both the old and the most recent planning applications:
Shepherds Farm, Clyst St Mary Solar Park (23 acres) – pending decision | Protecting Devon & Planning Appplications

Here is the plea for the solar farm from the developer:

Please support solar park near Clyst St. Mary
Solstice Renewables is developing a 5 MWp solar park at Shepherds Farm, Clyst St. Mary, east of Exeter, with its growing demand for renewable electricity. It would generate enough to power the equivalent of 1,515 average homes, saving 2,100 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year.
This proposal is being re-submitted after the original planning application was refused. Whilst staying within the same boundaries, the new proposal has removed all solar panels from the higher grade (Grade 2) agricultural land, which can continue to be farmed as before. The remaining land would also continue in agricultural use, initially with sheep grazing in winter and establishing wildflower meadows to improve biodiversity in summer.
How to support
Please take just a few minutes to stand up for renewable energy and show your support. There are three ways you can do this:
Comment directly on the East Devon District Council website – click here. You will need to register first.
Send an email to the planning officer, HJohnson@eastdevon.gov.uk with a copy to planning@eastdevon.gov.uk and quote the planning reference 14/2952/MFUL. It helps if you include your name and address to show you are local.
By post. Quote the planning reference 14/2952/MFUL and send your letter to: Planning West, East Devon District Council, Council Offices, Knowle, Sidmouth, Devon, EX10 8HL.
What to say
It is best if you use your own words, however if you are short of time you can copy and paste the following points.
> The site will make an important contribution to local and national renewable energy targets and carbon emissions cuts.
> There is no visual impact from the solar park, which will be well-screened within the surrounding landscape.
> The land will remain in agricultural use with sheep grazing, and the applicant has responded to previous concerns by removing the panels from the higher-grade land.
> The site will bring a welcome enhancement to local ecology and biodiversity, in particular boosting pollinators like bees and butterflies which have been in worrying decline recently.
> By supplying renewable electricity directly to Crealy Adventure Park the solar park will help to make an important local business more sustainable and support the local economy.
> The local community will benefit from a fund of £5000 a year with an additional £2000 allocated to local schools for educational benefits.
Thank you for your support – please help spread the word to other supporters of renewable energy. Find out more about the plans here.
Please support solar park near Clyst St. Mary | Solstice Renewables

Indeed, Exeter schoolchildren have been taken out to the site to consider the merits or otherwise of solar power:
Clyst St Mary pupils visit site of proposed new solar park | Exeter Express and Echo
Exeter schoolchildren visit potential solar farm site | Solar Power Portal

And Friends of the Earth in Exeter are very much behind the project:

Clyst Solar Farm – Update

20th January 2015
Last summer, Exeter FoE campaigned in support of Solstice Renewables’ planning application to build a 7.5 MW solar park, with a direct electricity connection to Crealy Adventure Park. This planning application was unfortunately turned down, however Solstice has now resubmitted the application for a smaller solar park of 5MW at the same site. This application needs your support! Here’s a message from Solstice:
‘The main difference between the new application and the previous one is that solar panels have now been removed from all the Grade 2 land, which can continue to be farmed, so that only Grade 3a land would be affected. The land around the panels will be grazed with sheep in winter and a wildlife meadow and biodiversity haven will be created in summer.
Solstice Renewables prioritises community benefits, and as well as offering a fund of £5,000 a year for 25 years, is still offering an additional £2,000 a year in support for education initiatives associated with the solar park; it has already delivered a full day of activities at the site for Clyst St. Mary primary school pupils studying biodiversity and renewable energy. The solar park would have a direct link to Crealy Great Adventure Park, enabling them to source most of their electricity from renewable sources, while the rest would be exported to the grid to benefit homes and businesses in local villages and Exeter.
The planning application number is 14/2952/MFUL and here is a direct link to the planning application.
I do hope you will be able to support this and help spread the word among other local supporters of renewable energy.’
(from Sophy Fearnley-Whittingstall)

Help Clyst St Mary Run on Sun

16th July 2015
A new solar energy park is being proposed near Clyst St Mary, and is in need of your support. Exeter FoE recognise that solar panels are perhaps best on roofs, rather than farmland, but we still think this is worth supporting, since we so desperately need to move away from dependence on fossil fuels.
The solar park would have a direct link to Crealy Great Adventure Park, enabling them to source about 75% of their electricity from renewable sources, while the rest would be exported to the grid to benefit homes and businesses in local villages and Exeter. Solstice is also working with Cirencester Royal Agricultural University on an innovative scheme to grow soft fruits between the panels, although initially it is likely to implement sheep grazing with a programme of biodiversity improvements. The scheme would make an important contribution to local and national renewable energy targets. However, the application is currently in need of supportive comments, as a group is opposing it.
solar | Exeter Friends Of The Earth

Here are some comments supporting the application from a correspondent:

"The community elements of this application can be seen on page 30 point 6.6: Key Benefits include....... You can see them on the planning support statement: http://planningapps.eastdevon.gov.uk/Planning/StreamDocPage/obj.pdf?DocNo=1656221&PDF=true&content=obj.pdf
"We are all addicted to using electricity for much of our lives nowadays, this electricity has to therefore be sourced somewhere. The current (excuse the pun) alternative sources of electricity come from burning coal, nuclear fission or burning gas. Solar in comparison is so benign and environmentally friendly.
"The look of a solar park shows such ingenuity in harnessing sunlight with crystals and converting it quietly, efficiently and cleanly to electricity for us all to use. The fact that society values this electricity on par with food production is something we can all ponder over. It is a myth that somehow harnessing electricity from solar is putting pressure on food production. Look, for an example at the value of milk and how much land that takes up and the financial pressures farmers are put under by this. It is therefore no wonder many farmers and land owners are diversifying into other commodities that we value, such as clan electricity from solar.
"The use of solar within an AONB, is perfectly in keeping with preserving the beauty of an area whilst moving with the times. If we were to advocate no interference with the countryside, we would be against monoculture farms ploughing up grasslands, heathlands and woodlands to farm for profits. But we accept these open fields as a necessary part of our countryside. Similarly solar parks are a natural adaption to these times and a perfect accompaniment to an AONB. Solar parks can relinquish funds from a piece of land whilst also being a haven for wildflowers and the plethora of wildlife these meadows attract.
"We all use vast amounts of electricity in our lives, either directly or indirectly, surely it is better to source that energy locally from clean and renewable sources, rather than from many miles away with dire environmental consequences."

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