Friday, 20 December 2013

Solar Plan for Sidmouth: supporting comments

It appears that the application for a solar farm was refused, 
firstly due to lack of 'community value':

.... Additionally, as referred to above, a clear and specific commitment to providing 
some community gain should be made. 

Community Involvement 

A mail drop was undertaken by the applicant in the sparsely populated area around 
the site, taking in a total of 33 properties. No written responses were received. While 
this may suggest indifference to the scheme by the nearest residents, consultation 
on this planning application has drawn comments from further afield which largely 
express opposition to the scheme. Balancing the objections there have also been 
letters of support from the local community. 

Futures Forum: Solar Plan for Sidmouth fails

And secondly due to concerns for the AONB:


The need for renewable energy developments in order to meet UK-wide objectives is 
recognised but this does not diminish the significance of the country's most valued 
landscapes and the need to protect them from inappropriate development. In the 
AONB management strategy it is envisaged that renewable energy projects will be in 
the form of small scale domestic installations although it does not rule out larger 
scale developments if the landscape character is maintained and the natural beauty 
of the area is conserved or enhanced. In this case it is considered that the proposed 
development fails to meet both of those tests and therefore would have an 
unacceptable impact on the AONB. 

Futures Forum: "It has not been demonstrated that development in the highly protected AONB landscape is essential."

It does seem clear, therefore, that the District Council is not 'against' solar farms - even on AONB:

Development Management Consultation Response

We welcome the principle of renewable energy provision in the AONB. AONB 
Management Strategy Policy EQC1 outlines the need for such development that is in 
keeping with the sustainable management of the landscape, maintains landscape 
character and conserves and where possible enhances, natural beauty. This is a 
major solar p.v. development. Given the scale and location of this application it is 
somewhat surprising that the consultants have not referred to the East Devon AONB 
Management Strategy or this policy in its Planning Statement given the material 
evidence of AONB Management Strategy to the East Devon District Local Plan. 

We feel this application does not confirm fully how it will meet AONB Management 
Strategy policy EQC1 in its current form. We recognise that renewable energy is 
offering an important and significant stable income stream for land managers at a 
time when many forms of agricultural income are subject to the fluctuations of market 
forces and the global economy. Nevertheless, this does not obviate the need to 
address the primary purposes of AONB designation to 'conserve and enhance 
natural beauty'. 

EQC1: Support and encourage environmental and renewable energy initiatives aimed 
at maintaining and improving the natural resources of the AONB and reducing 
greenhouse gas emissions, that are in keeping with the sustainable management of 
the landscape, maintain landscape character and conserve and where possible 
enhance, natural beauty. 

Interestingly, the Environment Agency and Natural England were not against the proposal.

Here is the comment from Cllr Chris Wale in support of the application:

Local Consultations

Sidmouth Rural - Cllr C Wale
As the ward member this application has again caused me to reflect on how we
eventually replace fossil fuels in the main coal, oil and gas.

I quote the Energy Bill, 2012 - 2013:

"The Energy Bill 2012 -2013 aims to close a number of coal and nuclear power
stations over the next two decades, to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and has
financial incentives to reduce energy demand. Government climate change targets 
are to produce 30% of electricity from renewable sources by 2020, to cut 
greenhouse gas emissions by 50% on 1990 levels by 2025 and by 80% on 1990 
levels by 2050".

We have now seen many applications being approved and appeals won on the
basis of policy and that such applications can offer clean, safe and affordable energy
within several decades.

With the advancement and speed of innovation we have seen (despite the global
financial crisis this type of global investment is clean, safe and healthy with such
technologies amounting to billions of pounds of investment with many countries
offering around 100% renewable electricity and aiding to implement polices to
achieve them.

Why is planning for renewable and low carbon energy important?

Increasing the amount of energy from renewable and low carbon technologies will
help to make sure the UK has a secure energy supply, reduce greenhouse gas
emissions to slow down climate change and stimulate investment in new jobs and

Planning has an important role in the delivery of new renewable and low carbon
energy infrastructure in locations where the local environmental impact is

The National Planning Policy Framework explains that all communities have a
Responsibility to help increase the use and supply of green energy. I see there is
considerable support from public members in relation to this particular application.

What are the particular planning considerations that relate to active photovoltaic
solar technology?

Where a planning application is required, factors to bear in mind include:

- The importance of sitting systems in situations where they can collect the most
Energy from the sun this application meets and suits this site.

- Need for sufficient area of solar modules to produce the required energy output from
the system again the application meets this adequately.

- The effect on a protected area such as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty or
other designated areas. The site is well secluded being surrounded by a good range
of trees and vegetation.

I note the Landscape Architect ...Neil Blackmore's comments however I do not feel
the impact of this site is as such to cause significant issues in relation to this
application and the existing screening is more than adequate to alienate any
significant visual impact given the distances.

- The colour and appearance of the modules

- The effect on landscape of glint and glare again I feel this is minimal and taking into
account the Exeter and Devon Airport Ltd comments who have no objections. This
proposal has been examined from an Aerodrome Safeguarding aspect and does not
appear to conflict with safeguarding criteria.

- The impact on neighbouring uses and aircraft safety is satisfied from the information
available to me as well as the extent of impact. Security measures are again
satisfied and the lighting again does not affect in anyway.

I am inclined to offer my support to this application along with both the Environment
Agency, Exeter & Devon Airport Ltd and Natural England

However I would endorse the head of planning, transportation and environment on
behalf of Devon County Council, as the local highway authority in their
recommendations that their following conditions shall be incorporated in any grant of
permission and would echo this as the ward member.

In the event that this applications comes before the Development Management
Committee I would reserve my position until I have heard all of the arguments for
and against.

A local businessman addressed the planning committee at its hearing - urging approval:

My name is Edward Willis Fleming. I have been a resident of Sidbury for 25 years.
Our region has to think more seriously about producing more Energy from our generous amounts of sun, tide and wind. The South West should be at worst self sufficient, but aspire to export to other Regions.
Electricity IS the fuel of the Future. The only question is how we manage to produce it. The homes, cars and Industry of tomorrow will consume ever increasing amounts of it. We are heated and cooled by it. London now uses more electricity cooling itself than it does heating itself.
Our Nation was forged by Coal, but no more. North Sea Oil and Gas are in decline and we are now net importers of both resources again. Nuclear power , back in vogue shows us as reactive rather than proactive. I am far more concerned about Hinckley Point than Sidbury Solar.
Both as a District and a Region we need to start making and exporting energy and stop importing it.
Only last week the Region lost the chance of a massive off shore wind farm, a few days before the Government decided to up the tariffs on off shore wind.
It is time we took control of events rather than letting them take control of us. Of course the Environmental considerations are paramount. No one wants to see beautiful areas blighted by permanent structures. But in all probability, solar farms are not permanent. In the twenty five year life expectancy of this Farm, technology will overtake it. Think what has happened to technology in the last five years, let alone what will happen over the next twenty five. Farms like this are just part of the answer to a clear and present danger. We must avoid becoming dependent again on the often unpredictable oil and gas producing nations of the world, as we were in the 1970’s. These choices are probably about small sacrifices now to avoid much bigger ones later.
Providing we address the termination contract details, these applications can be managed. Who, at the end of a lease, will be responsible for dismantling the then redundant steel and metal and restoring the land to its former glory, when there is no longer a need for further use. Britain' s towns have contaminated sites all over them from old gas works which will still costs hundreds of thousands to clear. The end game clean up was overlooked because they were vital to peoples lives.
Solar Farms are equally vital, they will make clean energy and will be easier to dismantle when we are able to move on to the next fuel source. I would suggest to planners that this site, largely obscured from view, non harmful to wildlife and able to be easily restored later on is just a small part of a necessary vision for the future. The demands on our island grow because of increased demand from what will become the largest population in the EU by 2050. It may be, that if we want to keep the lights on, that we will have accept quite a few temporary introductions into the landscape. Providing an adequate exit strategy is agreed, then I personally would accept this as part of the solution to our collective, but essential needs and wants.
Edward Willis Fleming
The Sidmouth Design Company Limited

A comment left on Cllr Claire Wright's blog 

Huge solar farm at the top of East Hill set for refusal

A 47 acre solar panel array proposed for land at the top of East Hill overlooking Sidbury, is being recommended for refusal by planning officers at next week’s development management committee meeting.
Huge solar farm at the top of East Hill set for refusal
The land, which is in my Devon County Council ward, is also in the East Devon area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB).
The proposal is for more than 33,000 panels to be installed for a 25 year period, with associated buildings and infrastructure.
The AONB team say that the application would “significantly alter the landscape character of this location” And: “erodes the intrinsically rural nature of the countryside in this sparsely developed area.”
EDDC’s landscape architect takes a similar view.
Devon County Council highways department recommends refusal on the grounds of not enough information supplied about access, off-street parking, and on-site turning facilities.
But Sidmouth Rural EDDC ward member, Chris Wale, believes the impact on the AONB is overstated, and priority should be given to the renewable energy scheme..
The decision will take place at next Tuesday’s (10 December) development management committee. See the officer’s report and comments here from page 211 -http://www.eastdevon.gov.uk/combined_dmc_agenda_101213.pdf
Photograph by Sid Vale Association:  View from Sidmouth looking towards East Hill. 


1. At 12:01 pm on 10th Dec Chris Wakefield wrote:
I agree that trashing the countryside in a tourism / amenity area isn’t very bright, and the solar power industry just has to work harder to make its efforts acceptable (or even welcomed) by the local community. They need to develop priorities that don’t just look at the money they might make. There are lots of other good reasons to make renewables the mainstay of energy policy, but short term profit does not (and should not) figure highly in a lot of them.
I am a great supporter of renewable energy, as readers of this blog might remember, so anyone interested in the “nuclear is horrible but there is no alternative” argument should read this piece from Johnathan Porritt http://www.jonathonporritt.com/blog/it-can’t-be-easy-being-george-monbiot

Chris Wakefield has left similar comments in support of renewable energy:

Here's more on the George Monbiot 'conversion' to nuclear:
Why Fukushima made me stop worrying and love nuclear power | George Monbiot | Comment is free | The Guardian
It can’t be easy being George Monbiot | Jonathon Porritt
Futures Forum: Sidmouth hydroelectricity

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