Meeting heats up as solar farm plan is thrown out
CHEERS of relief echoed around the council chamber last week when planners rejected a proposal for a major solar farm on the edge of Exmoor.
Dozens of Morebath residents were overjoyed at Mid Devon District Council's decision to throw out the scheme for 23,000 panels across 45 acres of countryside.
An "unprecedented" 400 letters of objection to the Keens Farm scheme were sent to planners, who agreed it would have a "detrimental effect to the Devon landscape".
Calming excited campaigners Councillor Polly Colthorpe, planning chairman, said: "I'm aware of the strong feeling about this site but please don't interrupt the progress of the committee."
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It was only around two months ago when residents prepared to battle two solar farm plans earmarked for the village. Loyton Farm, a mile east of Morebath, was pencilled in for more panels and residents feared the two developments would have resulted in the loss of more than 80 acres of countryside – an area large enough to house eight Wembley stadiums. This plan has since been withdrawn.
An agent speaking on behalf of the applicant, German renewable energy company Juwi, said the Morebath farm would produce 5mw of clean energy which would power 1,000 homes, but warned further plans for such schemes could be earmarked for the parish in the near future.
He said: "We would incorporate robust screening from various directions and we have also offered a generous community benefits package.
"It is completely reversible, is temporary, and we have worked hard to address concerns, we have held public consultations and have made sincere efforts to modify our design."
Objectors told planners a less harmful approach to produce green energy would be to place solar panels on buildings and concern was also raised over the mile-long security fencing and camera masts which they said would create a visual scar in the area.
Others questioned who would be legally accountable for the safe removal of the panels, which would be classed as toxic waste in 25 years' time.
"Accountability is a real concern," said Cllr Andrew Moore, speaking on behalf of Morebath Parish Council.
"The applicant is a German company operating in the UK from Birmingham – not in Devon or even the South West. They have stated they will probably sell the scheme to another, unknown party.
"So what happens when things go wrong?"
Mr Moore said the proposal creates no obvious short-term employment for maintenance, farming jobs will be removed and tourism affected.
Cllr Ray Stanley said: "This location is not only close to Morebath but it is also within a mile of Exmoor National Park which is an enormous draw for tourists, and we must be careful we don't affect that particular trade."
Resident Peter Gibson said the panels will be visible from a number of viewpoints, especially on the road from the moor, and said: "More than 400 objections have been lodged against this application, for what can only be described as an industrial-sized solar power station – an unprecedented amount for one application."
Cllr Paul Williams said he was "astonished" at being asked to refuse the plan because of where the company is based.
"It worries me when that kind of thing happens here and it is not what we are here for, it is not a material planning consideration and I can assure the public that I will not take any notice of that kind of comment," he added.