Residents of three villages in Northamptonshire are putting up the fight of a lifetime against a “monstrous” 200-acre solar farm on their doorsteps.
The solar farm would cover rolling countryside and farmland between Greatworth, Halse and Farthinghoe. If planning consent is approved it would operate for at least 40 years. West Northamptonshire (WNC) Council will consider Copse Lane Solar Farm on September 12.
Developers JBM Solar Projects 20 Ltd put in an application for a 420 acre site in 2019, reducing the scheme to 203 acres last year but withdrew it just before decision making after receiving feedback.
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The company has reapplied this year for a 195 acre site, which they say would produce nearly 50MW (Megawatts) of electricity. The site would have battery storage for a similar amount and there would be a new substation near Halse.
Villagers are up in arms over the plan, saying its panels, battery stations, pylons and equipment will ruin the rural tranquility of the land between their communities. Footpaths and bridleways will be ruined, they claim. They are supported in their opposition by the Council for Protection of Rural England (CPRE).
Mick Morris chairman of Farthinghoe Parish Council said: “This monstrous solar farm would totally ruin this beautiful valley that has been used for generations to produce crops.
"It would cover virtually all the walking areas – people would be walking through a field of solar panels and any sense of leisure would be gone.”
Mr Morris said opponents believe the claims for the volume of energy supply were “completely overstated” and disruption caused by construction – which would take six months – would be immense.
"This would mean another 850 trucks alongside the HS2 trucks in the same area, having to approach via Halse Road in Brackley town or Poppyfields Way. Anyone can see that those roads are not suitable for huge construction traffic,” he said.
JBM says it wants consent for a “temporary period” of 40 years. Then solar panels, battery stations and associated equipment would be removed but a substation and access would be retained on a permanent basis.
The company’s new plan moves solar panels from the roadside, leaving margins for agricultural use to allay some concerns. It would also plant new hedgerows and trees with wildflower meadows and “other biodiversity and recreational/educational features”.
Sheep would be able to graze between the panels, they say. JBM said: “The proposals are appropriate in terms of design and access and the proposed development represents a positive contribution towards meeting the UK’s legally binding climate change and renewable energy obligations.”
Numerous people have written to object to the proposal. Mr Morris said some supporters of the scheme do not live locally and have submitted “pro-forma” wording.
One villager said: “Due to HS2 the local, peaceful and pretty rural environment in this area of south Northants… is leaving our countryside destroyed and unrecognisable.
"I hope council members look to the future when considering this... Brackley continues to expand, especially to the north. Wherever technology takes us, people will still want to walk and benefit from access to a beautiful valley, criss-crossed with footpaths and bridleways to walk, cycle and ride on in relative peace and quiet.
"I urge members of WNC to stand at the top of the valley, looking down from Cockley Hill Farm onto a patchwork of fields, copses and properties. Please don't ‘fill in’ this special area when so much has already been destroyed.”
Residents already have one solar farm plan agreed at Drovers Lane near Greatworth.
One said: “I do not object to all solar schemes in principle, and as such had no objection to the Drovers Lane scheme in Greatworth. However, the valley between Greatworth and Halse is not the right place for such a scheme. It will have a massive impact on the local landscape.
"We will have disruption during the construction of the Drovers Lane Solar Farm and at some point, with the construction of the Farthinghoe by-pass. To also have the development of the Copse Lodge Solar Farm is just a massive step too far.
"Even though JBM has removed the fields north of Halse Road from this tweaked re-application, it seems completely realistic to assume that if permission is granted for this, they will immediately apply for an extension to include the fields in the previous iteration of this application.”
CPRE said Government policy is for solar farms to be sited on brownfield and non agricultural land. Here the “industrial nature of the panels will be very apparent”, exacerbated by battery storage which would produce noise.
Both CPRE and the Ramblers Association say the land epitomises the “rural English idyll”.
CPRE said the developer claims for the number of homes and carbon saving were misleading as only a third of electricity is used by homes and it must not be assumed all carbon comes from fossil fuels. Its calculations reduced the company’s claims by half and up to a tenth of homes.
Landscape consultant Max Askew said the character of the landscape would change dramatically over a wide area, with significant, adverse effect if the solar farm were built.
"Conservation and enhancement of existing hedgerows and trees, new tree and hedgerow planting, new orchard and new meadows... are beneficial and fulfil some of the Northamptonshire Landscape Character Strategy and Guidelines. But in spite of this mitigation, the character and appearance of the landscape will be fundamentally changed by the solar farm infrastructure over much of the application area and the local context.
"The scale, massing, siting, form and design of this proposed development do not, to my mind, meet the requirements of these (required) policies. This site does not have capacity for a solar development of this size if it is to comply with planning policy and guidance which relates to its landscape and visual context.”