Residents continue to battle major solar farm proposals
A SOLAR farm will expand over more than 47 acres of Mid Devon countryside and will be visible from the Blackdown Hills if development goes ahead, objectors say.
Great Curham Farm, Ash Thomas near Tiverton, has been earmarked as a potential site for a total of 42,080 panels by Solar Power Generation Ltd, Somerset.
Opponents have complained about a lack of consultation with villagers who will continue to fight the plans on the grounds it will result in the loss of Grade 1 farmland, as well as having a "detrimental visual impact" on the area.
Cllr Barrie Corden, chairman of Halberton Parish Council, said a residents' meeting was held so objectors could come up with effective ways of thwarting the proposal, "which, if it went ahead, would be huge and one of the biggest sites in the Westcountry," he said.
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Members of the press were told they "must not attend the meeting" by organisers.
Cllr Corden said: "There is a lot of very strong feeling about this.
"People are concerned about a complete change to the whole environment and the fact it will change the look of the area from Devonshire countryside to an industrial park.
"The other principle concern is this is all Grade 1 farmland and should not be used for anything other than future food production and that is what most people objected to.
"There was also concern over the road network as the infrastructure will need to be brought in, which will be 42,000 panels and some of the strips will end up being 240m in length and 3.5m tall at the back – no matter what hedging you put up, you will still be able to see the panels, in fact you will be able to see them from miles around," Cllr Corden added.
A meeting of the parish authority was also held in the nearby hamlet where members formally recommended refusal for the scheme, which district councillor Ray Radford, who represents the area at Phoenix House, 'called in' to be debated by Mid Devon District Council's planning committee in coming months.
Halberton Parish Council recommended approval for smaller solar farm schemes at lesser quality agricultural land at Nethermill Farm and Langlands Farm, but development did not go ahead.
Mid Devon District Council has received more than 60 letters of objection to the scheme, and only three in support.
Former chief executive of the planning authority, Mike Bull, who is among residents to register their dissatisfaction with the council, raised concern over developers calling a meeting to discuss the plan only half-an-hour before the parish council was due to meet to form their views on the proposal on Tuesday, December 11.
He said: "This all smacks of steamrollering a plan through a strategy of making sure local people know as little about the thing as is possible and are precluded from any reasonable opportunity to be informed and express opinions."
The application was lodged with the district council on Wednesday, November 21, but Mr Bull said nobody knew about the plan until around a week later.
A spokesperson for Solar Power Generation Ltd says the scheme, if it goes ahead, will have the capacity to produce 10mw of electricity and that letters were sent to residents to inform them of the plan and of the meeting held by developers last month.
The company also said the scheme is "about average" in size under the ROC (Renewable Obligations Certificate) and that there are many in the UK that are under construction, have planning consent, or are undergoing consideration that are much larger than this.