Campaign launched against another solar farm plan for district

The site of the proposed Battles/ Pelham Spring solar farm.

The site of the proposed Battles/ Pelham Spring solar farm. - Credit: Stop Battles Solar

The company behind plans for massive solar farms on hundreds of acres of local agricultural land has unveiled proposals for yet another scheme in the district.

The Low Carbon Group is proposing a solar farm on 180 acres of land at Battles Farm, south of Berden and north of Manuden.

The scheme would be built in a heritage landscape with 30 listed buildings within 1km of the proposed site, and Battles Wood, listed as an ancient woodland, would be engulfed by the farm.

Campaign to prevent solar panels on prime farmland

CutlersGreen2

A new campaign aims to prevent large swathes of agricultural land being repurposed for massive solar farms surrounding a historic village.

Protest group Hands Off Thaxted has produced an e-petition urging Uttlesford District Council to take urgent action, after seeing plans for almost 700 acres of agricultural land to be taken out of commission for food production to accommodate solar panels.

They want UDC to put in place a strategy to protect Uttlesford’s landscape and its best and most versatile farm land from further industrialisation, including large scale solar farms.

Campaign spokesman Tom Wilson said: "We are in the middle of a Covid crisis and a major re-configuration of our food importation process; in addition, our planning laws are changing but it is unclear what the changes are, and we still do not have a Local Plan.

"Behind the scenes of this uncertainty, acres of prime farm land in Uttlesford are being quietly sold off or rented out to developers.

"There are already 270 acres of solar farms on Grade 2 land on the east side of Thaxted.  Another site of up to 280 acres of solar farms is planned for the west side. This will destroy the timeless rural landscape and setting of Cutlers Green and Thaxted’s medieval village as well as de-commissioning hundreds of acres of prime agricultural land.

"In nearby Wimbish, a third solar farm planned by Low Carbon is further forward in the planning process, and that will take out 136 acres of farmland. In just one small are of Uttlesford, rich in history and natural beauty as well as agricultural land, a total of 686 acres of good land will be lost to food production.

"It will also inhibit access to the countryside and the enjoyment of our rural landscape.  And that is not the end of the story, of course: there are likely to be more applications for farm land sites in the pipeline."

Tom said Covid restrictions are preventing proper consultation with residents, and few people are aware of just how much land will be lost across the district.

Apart from the impact on food production, the campaign says the historic landscape setting of towns and villages will disappear, the enjoyment of footpaths and the countryside will be lost, and wildlife will suffer from the changes to habitat, the loss of established pathways, and the introduction of new hazards.

Hands Off Thaxted was set up in spring 2014 by local residents to fight unwanted and unnecessary housing development.

The group says it recognises the stark reality of climate change, and how solar power is a necessary and useful source of renewable energy, but argues that solar farms do not have to be sited on the best and most fertile farmland.

"Solar panels can and should be installed on all public buildings, new housing, industrial sites and scrubland.  Agricultural land is far too precious to be used for anything but crops, particularly at a time when the world population is growing and food imports are uncertain.

"Our efforts to combat climate change must take account of the ‘big picture’ through balanced, informed and sustainable planning. That is why this petition is being launched to urge Uttlesford District Council to create a sustainable plan for the development of solar energy that protects farmland and the rural landscape.

"We urge all Uttlesford residents to sign this petition as it concerns us all.  The more people who sign, the more quickly UDC are likely to act with urgency on this matter."

A spokesperson for UDC said: "The council welcomes petitions and recognises that they are one way in which people can let us know their concerns. The petition available on the website will be monitored by officers until the scheduled end date on June 30. Following the deadline, the council will respond appropriately as set out in its constitution."

To sign the petition, please go to https://uttlesford.moderngov.co.uk/mgEPetitionDisplay.aspx?ID=13&RPID=3408346&HPID=3408346

LCG has been very active in the surrounding area, with various schemes in the pipeline.

Terriers Farm, Thaxted is a consented site which is due to be constructed shortly, and the company is also exploring possible sites at Long Meadow Farm, near Wimbish, Cutlers Farm, near Thaxted and Pelham Spring Farm, near Maggots End.

The site of the proposed Battles/ Pelham Spring solar farm.

The site of the proposed Battles/ Pelham Spring solar farm. - Credit: Stop Battles Solar

Newly formed campaign group Stop Battles Solar is fighting against the latest scheme and calling on Uttlesford District Council (UDC) to create a firm policy on where solar farms can be sited.

A spokesperson said: "There is more solar power either available or approved for construction in Uttlesford  than in any other planning district in Essex. This might suggest that Uttlesford council’s approach to the approval of planning applications for solar farms is at odds with government policy.

Most Read

"The approach currently being adopted by LCG and others strongly suggests that, in absence of a clear policy position from UDC as to the appropriate locations for solar farms, any agricultural site in close proximity to a high voltage power supply and/or substation is regarded by solar farm developers as fair game.

"It is simply not acceptable for solar farms to be constructed on good quality agricultural land which is judged by solar farm developers to be a “convenient” location. What is needed is clear guidance as to suitable locations. And this guidance needs to be issued as a matter of urgency."

The site of the proposed Battles/Pelham Spring solar farm.

The site of the proposed Battles/Pelham Spring solar farm. - Credit: Stop Battles Solar

A spokesperson for Low Carbon explained their strategy for the region: "One of the key challenges in delivering renewable energy projects such as solar is the availability of viable grid connections. At this time there is available capacity at a number of locations in Uttlesford district and we are working with local stakeholders including landowners Uttlesford District Council and the wider community to identify the best sites and deliver all projects in a consultative manner.

"When we identify a site, we are committed to  early engagement with the local community to understand the impacts and consider whether the siting can be changed or adjusted – for example visual impact mitigation could include set-backs and additional landscaping.

"Ultimately, the more people that get in contact to discuss concerns, the better the chance that we have to consider and potentially accommodate requests."

The company said it takes the matter of the loss of agricultural land very seriously, and balances this against the green energy benefits of solar power.

"We assess all sites with a viable grid connection based on their individual attributes and always seek to minimise environmental and visual impact in collaboration with the landowner and local community. We are also involved in the active management of solar sites for net environmental gain – be that through the protection of existing ecology and hedging, biodiversity increases through natural planting schemes or co-grazing as part of our site management schemes.

The site of the proposed Battles/ Pelham Spring solar farm.

The site of the proposed Battles/ Pelham Spring solar farm. - Credit: Stop Battles Solar

"Solar farms are a temporary and reversible use of farmland – the modules are typically mounted on piles, to be removed at the end of the planning consent period, enabling the land to return to agriculture."

You can view and comment on the latest planned solar farm on the UDC website www.uttlesford.gov.uk quoting the references UTT/19/1864/FUL and UTT/21/0643/SCO

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter