Solar farms 'will change our rural landscape' says CPRE
The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) is calling for a Westcountry council to impose stricter rules on how they determine solar farm planning applications.
The CPRE believes Torridge District Council is being so inundated with solar farm applications that they are posing as big a threat to the countryside as wind turbines.
The campaign group wants to see the council's planning department put all solar farm applications covering more than five acres straight through to the planning committee rather than allowing them to be determined by a single planning officer.
This would mirror the process wind turbine applications go through in Torridge; all turbines which are 25 metres or higher are determined by the planning committee.
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In a letter sent to both councillors and officers the chairman of the Torridge branch of the CPRE, Penny Mills, said: "These (solar farms) are large scale schemes usually of 40-100 acres each, which instigate a dramatic change to the agricultural farmland on which they are sited.
"There is now the cumulative effect to consider as more and more acres are involved in these schemes.
"Not only, of course, an impact on the landscape from thousands of ground-mounted solar panels, high security fencing etc, but loss of agricultural land traditionally used to produce food, together with loss of biodiversity and wildlife.
"The CPRE is very concerned about this and is in particular concerned that some of these applications are just being approved by officers without even going to the plans committee.
"I am therefore asking you, please, as you did for wind turbines, whether you will introduce a 'policy' at Torridge that all applications for solar farms over five acres must go to plans committee.
"The cumulative effect of wind and solar schemes, as I say particularly in this area of Torridge, I believe is now at a level which is fundamentally changing our landscape – that from a traditional rural farming one, to a renewable energy landscape. And the balance needs to be addressed before it's too late."
Mrs Mills has estimated the solar farms which have already been approved by Torridge cover a total of 300 acres and more are being submitted each week.
She added that the biggest one yet which is proposed to cover 106 acres at Pitworthy Farm in Pancrasweek, Holsworthy is currently pending consideration.
Council leader Barry Parsons said: "Torridge is always ready to listen to its local residents.
"For this particular suggestion, I think in the first instance the best course of action would be for the Renewable Energy Working Group to take a look at it, and we'll take it from there."
Geoffrey Cox, MP for Torridge and West Devon, said he wasn't aware that solar farms had become as prolific as turbines but is ready to act if their accumulative effect is growing.
He said: "We are no doubt faced by the accumulative effect of turbines but I am not sure solar farms have reached that level.
"I think it is right the CPRE has raised its concerns and I would certainly support their call, I am certainly concerned they think it has reached this level.
"It is something I will be monitoring and if we reach the level of solar farms that we already have done with turbines I will want to act.
"Just how much of the land can we give away to renewable energy?"
Bob Barfoot, from the CPRE North Devon branch, said he hadn't looked into suggesting a similar set up for North Devon Council as he was aware the number of solar farm applications was particularly prolific in Torridge compared to elsewhere in Devon.
He said: "We have objected to all the solar farm applications in North Devon, they usually cover a lot of land and with food prices continuously rising it just seems like madness."
But Councillor Brian Greenslade, the leader of North Devon Council, said: "All planning applications received by the council must be considered on a case by case basis by reference to existing national and local planning policies where they exist."