By Tom Potter
Thursday, January 24, 2013
A PROPOSAL to install one of Europe’s biggest solar farms in the Suffolk countryside has been thrown out by a district planning committee.
The application for a 25 megawatt (MW) capacity development on 127 acres of farmland in Hacheston, near Framlingham, was rejected by councillors in spite of recommendations by Suffolk Coastal planning officers.
Chairmen of three parish councils and a neighbouring landowner spoke out against the plan before the planning committee deliberated its verdict yesterday.
They followed Julian Pertwee, business development director of green energy developers Hive Energy, who argued that the application was in line with local and national planning policy, and that the site was not considered to lie in an environmentally “sensitive” area.
Mr Pertwee said Hive Energy had chosen the farmland at Hacheston, which is still being used for growing wheat, rape and beans, because of its existing substation and the fact that Suffolk is now considered the next best area for predicted solar generation after the south west, where the grid structure was “clogged by renewable energy”.
However, neighbouring homeowner Wig Darby then told councillors that the site was “highly visible from public footpaths, highways and local houses”, and was located in a special landscape area and between two listed buildings and a designated heritage monument at Moat Hall.
Mr Darby also claimed that piledriving photovoltaic panels up to 5ft into the ground would have a detrimental effect on field drainage in the clay soil. He added: “I think renewable is a fantastic idea but I think photovoltaic just isn’t viable. It’s in completely the wrong place - the middle of a field in beautiful countryside.”
Hacheston parish chairman Graeme Hall then described any loss of agricultural land the “industrialisation of the countryside”.
His opposition was also shared by Parham parish chairman Andrew Houseley and Easton parish chairman John Owen.
Some councillors on the planning committee lamented the absence of an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) into the potential environmental, social and economic consequences of the development.
Framlingham councillor Christopher Hudson said he had never seen parishes so united against a planning application. He added: “It’s not fit for purpose and is of no benefit at all locally.”
Before voting, head of planning services, Philip Ridley, advised councillors that the only grounds qualifiable for refusal were the affect on the landscape and visual impact of the solar farm, and that the other concerns were either resolvable or not significant enough to warrant refusal in their own right.
Despite recommendation for approval by planning officers, and a presumption in favour of sustainable development in the National Planning Policy Framework, councillors voted against the proposal based on policy in the Local Plan and the pre-submission core strategy of its Local Development Framework.
After the meeting, Mr Darby said: “We always thought Hacheston was an inappropriate place for this development and it has been refused on exactly those grounds. It sounds like they came to the right decision.”
On behalf of Hive Energy, Mr Pertwee said: “We are disappointed that there was no support whatsoever. There didn’t seem to be any positives painted by anyone but myself.
“We will meet to assess the situation with our funding teams and everyone concerned.
“We believed a large single field with a substation was a fantastic location, and that we had done enough to mitigate concerns during consultation.
“We hope to debate the matter further. To close the door like that was not quite the right way to go about it.”
Councillors were also asked to consider two smaller developments - one for a 15MW site on farmland south of Great Glemham and another at Stratton Hall, alongside the A14 between Kirton and Levington.
But the decision on both proposals was deferred to allow councillors to visit a working solar farm on the outskirts of North Walsham, Norfolk. The visit had been scheduled for Monday but was postponed due to the weather.