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News  »  Baldons Parish Council meeting to discuss the planning application for a solar farm on land south of Cowley substation.

   Baldons Parish Council meeting to discuss the planning application for a solar farm on land south of Cowley substation.    17 December, 2020

Notes from Baldons Parish Council meeting to discuss the planning application for a solar farm on land south of Cowley substation.
14th December 2020
An extraordinary meeting of the Parish Council took place at 19.30hrs on 14th December 2020 by Zoom.
Present were: Baldons Parish Council members and 20 members of the community. Stephen Dance (Deputy Chairman) was in the chair
Minutes of the meeting will be prepared and approved at the next meeting of the Council on 11th January 2020.  However, the Council has approved by email the circulation of these notes which, it is intended, will be appended to the minutes as part of the record.
The meeting was called to discuss the planning application for a solar farm on land south of Cowley substation.   A summary of information, including a link to the planning application, had been circulated to members of the community via email.
The Parish Council will make its formal written response to the application following the council meeting in January. In the meantime, individuals are encouraged to make their own submission.  It was agreed that it might help focus responses if members of the community had reference to the Material Planning Considerations (see SODC planning website). 
This is arguably the largest planning application that has been made in the Baldons.  It is recognised that there will be support for the application as well as opposition, and the purpose of the meeting was to gauge feelings within the community.  All interested individuals, including those attending the meeting who did not speak, are encouraged to communicate their views to the Parish Council, by e mail, in writing or verbally.
The meeting heard from several members of the community, most of whom objected to the proposals.  One person spoke up in favour.
The arguments in favour were based on the contribution that the solar farm could make to our Net Zero commitments through the provision of clean energy, and referenced examples of schemes where such development had increased bio-diversity.  The meeting recognised these potential benefits and agreed that the Green agenda is massively important.
Arguments against were based on the general efficiency of solar energy compared to other renewable sources, the apparently low efficiency of this scheme compared to others in the County, the suggestion of alternative means to generate power and the specific planning considerations of the scheme, as set out below.
It was  noted that the Parish Council has the right to Object, Support or express No Strong Views on the basis of material planning considerations, and it is beyond its remit to comment on wider policy matters.
Several members offered to provide further comments and views to the Parish Council and are encouraged to do so.
Objections, based on planning considerations, were raised on the following grounds and with the following points raised:
a. Unacceptable Loss of Green Belt
The solar farm will result in the loss of 139 hectares of Green Belt. 
This loss needs to be considered with the proposed Grenoble Road development, which when completed will occupy a further 153 hectares. 
The majority of those speaking considered that the loss of Green Belt could not be justified by this scheme and noted that the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) attaches great importance to Green Belts. It urges LPAs to maximise the use of suitable brownfield sites before considering changes to Green Belt boundaries, indicates there should be “exceptional circumstances” before Green Belt boundaries can be changed and says that development should be approved only in “very special circumstances”.
b. Unacceptable impact on the character of the area
The majority of those speaking considered that the character of the Baldons and the surrounding area would be adversely and unacceptably impacted.  Views from the villages and surrounding countryside into the site would be blighted as would the view from the raised area of the development, by what was described by as an ‘industrial development’.  In addition to the “hectares” of panels, there will be “miles” of steel chain-link fencing.
c. Technical concerns linked to the viability and efficiency of the project
For a site of 139 hectares, the NFU advisory document on the use of agricultural land for solar farms estimates that 2 hectares of land should generate 1MW of electrical energy.  Therefore the 139 hectares of the Nineveh Farm should produce in excess of 60MW.  Therefore, there are concerns that the data in the application is inaccurate in an attempt to reduce the impact of the development.
The site, which is north facing is considered to be a poor choice and may be the reason of the low efficiency.  This poor return for such a large area of Green Belt should be taken into account when considering the costs and benefits of the scheme.
d. Loss of agricultural land
NPPF (para 112) does not support the development of Grade 1 and 2 agricultural land.  This best quality land should be reserved for agricultural purposes.  Independent advice suggests that companies looking to develop large solar farms should utilise previously developed land, brownfield land, industrial or low grade (3b, 4 or 5) agricultural land.  Planning consultants also suggests that, when a development is proposed on agricultural land, the applicant should propose a project end date to indicate the temporary nature of the solar farm.
g. Noise
Solar farms generate noise due the wind blowing over the panels. 

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