EGMANTON PARISH MEETING
Ms Laura Gardener
Case officer NSDC
Proposed solar farm construction off Weston Road, Egmanton
The residents of Egmanton Parish met on the evening of 6th February 2014 to discuss the contents of a letter to you from Carter Jonas dated 24th January 2014 which responded to our earlier letter of objection to the solar farm proposal as dated 20th January 2014.
This, our second letter, gives our considered reply to the counter-points raised by the consultants and uses the headings and order of our first letter of objection.
Scale of proposed development
The information we extracted from the developer “near the end of the probing” was that there was to be erected 60,000 solar panels each measuring 1.2m by 0.6m. This piece of significant information was not set out in the submitted planning drawings or in the hundreds of accompanying documents. As the magnitude of the development
has been deliberated upon, so the residents consider it to be of industrial scale. In the context of clothing a 60 acre green field, such an installation should be placed on an industrial site or, at the very least, a derelict site distant from any village life.
As regards density of panels, we now discover that on ROC Energy’s Springhill Solar Park site in the Cotswolds, 20,368 panels are sited in a 36 acre field. Proportionately, this gives a population of 28,288 at Egmanton or 53% less than is proposed. We believe this to be preposterously greedy in the extreme.
The website www.lightsource-re.co.uk lists all solar farms in operation in the UK. Taking the Wymeswold recent installation into account (see “financial” paragraph below), this site at Egmanton will be the second largest in the country and on prime agricultural land, close to a heritage village and in the beautiful Trent Valley.
Visual impact & heritage
To say, as Carter Jonas do, that PPS7 “ was superseded by the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) seems to imply that a policy aim “ to protect the countryside for the sake of its intrinsic character and beauty, the diversity of its landscapes, heritage and wildlife” no longer exists. Having checked with Mr Matthew Norton of NSDC this is not the case. PPS7 was swept up into the NPPF with all the conservation objectives intact. The residents of Egmanton disagree strongly that “the distance to any heritage asset suggest that there is no scope for any significant impacts to occur”. On the contrary, Egmanton is a conservation village with a Grade 1 listed 12c church (attracting regular Pilgrimages from groups throughout the country), six Grade II listed properties and a medieval Motte & Bailey. In addition and within a 5km radius of the proposed site there are:-
• 10 Scheduled monuments
• 99 other Listed buildings and
• 5 Conservation areas.
If Egmanton village does not possess heritage assets worth safeguarding, we would like to hear of a village that does.
Residents of Egmanton do not believe that over the proposed 25 year life of the site, some form of illumination will not be installed and so a restrictive covenant should be placed on the site in this regard and there should be a planning condition to prevent
any form of illumination during the life of the plant.
Lack of prior consultation
Our letter of objection dated 20th January 2014 was prepared in the full knowledge that the SPD related to wind turbines. The key point is that it encapsulated a national theme well rehearsed by government ministers over the past two years,
“the need for renewable energy does not automatically override local environmental and heritage protections and the concerns of local communities. The views of local people must be listened to when making planning decisions. The DCLG requires developers to engage with the community early in the planning process and address concerns that they raise and the District Council will expect to see evidence of this”.
The developer, ROC Energy Ltd has not fulfilled what villagers would consider to be proper prior consultation. We knew nothing of the landowner’s or developer’s or consultants’ intention until 3rd December 2013. Even on the plans, there was no indication of how the panels would be set out. We had to wait until yesterday (10th February 2014) for photomontages to be received directly from NSDC.
Plans from the developer were submitted to NSDC on 9th October 2013. What happened in the time gap between 9th October and 3rd December? We would contrast this with the briefing papers and consultation meeting with residents from ADAS in relation to a single proposed turbine in the same locality (to add to the digestor plant already approved).
We believe that any impartial third-party will judge this lack of consultation and hiding of vital information as giving an unfair advantage to the proposers.
In relation to not informing the residents of Egmanton earlier, the letter from Carter Jonas says “we were advised”. By whom? Not ourselves.
If traffic management plans had been submitted “post decision” as is the consultants’ apparent experience elsewhere (presumably implying a favourable decision), that would have served to worsen the lack of prior consultation. How can it be right to hold back information on, e.g. 161 HGV two-way movements on our Weston Road? It is the best access to Egmanton, a scheduled bus route and the road to be used for vehicular access to the, now approved, anaerobic digestor plant.
Taking good quality agricultural land out of production
Of all the responses by the consultants to our objections to the proposed solar farm, the residents of Egmanton find their statement under this heading to be the most annoying demonstrating as it does an abject ignorance of agricultural matters – the lifeblood of the village. First, the imbalance of energy utilisation and CO2 creation between arable crops and animal husbandry is well publicised and proven. Secondly, we referred in our paper to “grain”. There are many more crops of grain than wheat and we could equally have referred to oil-seed rape. Even if the subject was restricted to wheat, we are dealing here with a lifespan of 25 years. Over such a period, any balance of wheat import/export will favour the UK being a net importer. Conversely, over the next 25 year period, lamb is likely to be a UK net export. Thirdly, it seems probable that farming sheep will be the only use to which this 60 acres of prime farmland can be put. Such inflexibility is anathema to agriculture in general and our village specifically.
Foreseen peril of water run-off
Egmanton is at the risk of flooding. A major flood occurred in 2007. The village can only be viewed as lucky to have escaped thus far this season and a flood defence scheme has been under discussion for some time with only finance having prevented an upstream dry reservoir being constructed. The latest consultants’ report is expected within the next few weeks. Residents refute totally that this proposed solar farm will not increase water retardation upstream. From a purely practical and common sense standpoint, rain falling on sheets of glass must channel. So strongly is this a belief that experiments are to be carried out and conclusions sought from an independent expert. This work is likely to take several months and in the interests of flood prevention, we urge the planning authority to allow time for this exercise to complete.
We note that the following planning condition is sought by the Environment Agency, “No development approved by this planning permission shall take place until such time as a scheme to manage overland surface water has been submitted to, and approved in writing by, the local planning authority”. Residents of Egmanton consider that no planning permission should be given before an approved water management scheme has been submitted and would remind the planning committee that since the great flood of 2007 (referred to in our letter No 1) we have been working with the Drainage Board and NCC and the EA to work with consultants to safeguard the village. Whilst the site of this proposed installation is in EA category Zone 1,
Egmanton Main Street and Kirton Road are clearly shown on the EA flood risk map as Zone 3.
Risk of flooding is a very emotive issue in the village of Egmanton. It cannot be dismissed in two paragraphs by consultants earning fees to support commercial interests.
That the consultants are aware of other installations closer to residential properties is irrelevant to our case against this proposal.
The point about lack of evidence in relation to the use of cadmium and lead substantiates our complaint on lack of time to do so. However, we have now appointed an expert in this area and envisage about six weeks for the evidence to emerge. Furthermore, we are contacting other villages that are close to installed solar farms to find out what their post-commissioning experience has been. Again this is bound to take time. We expect such time to be allowed before any irrevocable decision is taken.
Satisfying short-term financial interests
We note that our paragraph “Satisfying short-term financial interests” has not been responded to. In addition to the points made in our first letter, we now discover that (source – solafields.co.uk) any land owner is commanding a premium rent “Solarfields can provide indicative rental prices within 24 hours of receiving an enquiry, with premium values for good sites, typically in excess of £1,000 per acre per annum, indexed to inflation and also benefitting from additional power price increases”.
We mentioned in our first letter of objection that the developer intends to sell-off the capital scheme once commissioned to a third-party investor. According to press reports (Leicester Mercury) the solar farm at Wymeswold was sold after three months at a profit in excess of £5m.
Macro versus micro
“Policies hailed as saving the world from climate change have, in fact, increased Germany’s CO2 emissions”. Source – European Business Report, Daily Telegraph 17th January 2014.
Economist 25-31 January 2014. “European climate policy – Worse than useless” – page 10 leader.
“Instead of tinkering with the renewables targets, Europeans need to scrap them, and to get serious about the carbon market”.
Carter Jonas say that planning policy for renewable energy development is absolutely clear and cannot be questioned. That statement is not true. It can be questioned on the grounds of acceptability to local residents whose views must be taken into account. Whatever the NPPF may state, there is increasing evidence that in fact small-scale projects do not provide a valuable contribution to cutting greenhouse gas emissions. Indeed as is shown above, CO2 emissions are increasing.
The residents of Egmanton contend that ad-hoc renewable energy schemes of a piecemeal micro nature such as the proposed solar farm are irrelevant to national needs and serve only to line the pockets of one-off commercial adventurers.
J G Smith FCCA – honorary treasurer Egmanton Parish Meeting.
11th February 2014