Think macro – not micro

“The push for renewable energy sources is one thing. Using the right technology and sited in the right place is entirely another. Think macro – not micro. The following four papers set out the case made by residents of a small village in North Nottinghamshire for not using a 60 acre green field site as a solar farm (factory). At this date (20th April 2014), the planning officer has recommended acceptance of the proposal. The planning committee has deferred a decision pending further information”.

 

EGMANTON PARISH MEETING

Ms Laura Gardener
Case officer NSDC
Proposed solar farm construction off Weston Road, Egmanton
Reference: 13/01422/FULM

Introduction
The residents of Egmanton Parish met on the evening of 16th December 2013 to discuss the contents of papers proposing the erection of a solar farm adjacent to the village. These papers were received on 3rd December 2013.

Conclusion
By a vote of 34 to 3, with one abstention, the residents of Egmanton rejected the proposal for a solar farm within their village parish boundary.

Reasons for rejection of a solar farm
Set out below is a summary of the principal reasons voiced for the village of Egmanton to stay free of a solar farm development.

Scale of proposed development
The intended size of the solar farm is too large for a setting within a small village of 110 properties. Specifically, using 23.6 hectares of agricultural land to house 60,000 solar panels each measuring 1.2m by 0.6m is considered of industrial scale. There was a gasp of incredulity from the entire room when this information on scale was extracted from the developer near the end of our probing.

Visual impact & heritage
The proposal is considered to contravene Government Policy PPS7 “…to protect the countryside for the sake of its intrinsic character and beauty, the diversity of its landscapes, heritage and wildlife”. Egmanton is a conservation village with six Grade II listed properties including a 12c church and a Motte & Bailey. Research since the meeting finds that within a 5km radius of the proposed site are:-
• 10 Scheduled monuments
• 99 Listed buildings and
• 5 Conservation areas.

Not to take full account of visual and heritage aspects of this proposal would be to make a mockery of stringent building regulations appreciatively placed currently on housing development in Egmanton village. A minor fear raised consequentially is that at some future date, the site will be illuminated to facilitate security of the valuable assets then installed.

Lack of prior consultation
NSDC’s Draft Wind Energy Supplementary Planning Document dated January 2014 states under “Policy Context” that …. “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”. This sits precisely with the views of Egmanton residents believing that the same policy must apply to renewable energy type other than wind and so considers that the developer in this case has not fulfilled the prior consultation criteria. Indeed the exercise to date, starting as it did on 3rd December, is considered unduly rushed and time pressured. Residents of Egmanton are being steam-rollered. This gives an unfair advantage to the developer by giving too little time for villagers to obtain a fraction of the knowledge needed to reach the level of the proposers.

Traffic management
At what can only be described as “the eleventh hour”, that is 19th January 2014, a resident of Egmanton has found (as just posted) an addition to the planning application called “Egmanton Traffic Management Plan” notwithstanding that the site plan map attached is dated “July 2013”. Once again no prior consultation and residents being steam-rollered. Responding to the content of the plan, presumably there is a grammatical error in Para 3 which says “… delivery vehicles access the site avoiding local villages and day light hours”. One assumes it means only using day light hours? The following paragraph says delivery vehicles will be scheduled for set “times of day”. Two key points to make:-
• The actual practicality of managing vehicles in the way described is deemed not feasible.
• That 161 HGV two-way movements are planned for Weston Road, the best access to Egmanton and a scheduled bus route, is opposed in absolute terms.

Taking good quality agricultural land out of production
Taking a field of some 60 acres out of production is to deprive the food chain of about 170 to 180 tonnes of grain each year of its stated 25 year life. This 4,375 tonnes has to be replaced and the village is sufficiently cognisant of agriculture to know that such foodstuff, or its equivalent, will be imported. The emissions effect of the transport alone will mitigate the renewable energy benefit.

Foreseen peril of water run-off
The solar panels will impede the natural spread of rainwater as it falls on a field. Dry land beneath each panel is bound to exaggerate streaming. One third of the field proposed for the solar farm is drained to the Goosebeck dyke with a consequential risk of water-flow retardation upstream to the village of Egmanton. A quarter of all properties in the village were flooded in 2007 and aside from the considerable disruption to life with decampment elsewhere and the fear of a repeat event, an estimate of £2m is placed on the insurance cost of flood damage claims. A consultants’ report is currently to hand with the Drainage Board and it could be that this proposed solar farm will be deemed to add to flood risk. It is known that the engineer to the board has asked, as part of this consultation process, for certain works to be done and for land to be set aside if this proposal goes ahead. The villagers are very fearful of any development in their parish which has the slightest chance of increasing the risk of flooding.

Proximity
The proposed site for the solar farm is literally within a few hundred metres of private houses and agricultural buildings; some holding animals. Safety anxiety is expressed especially in relation to Cadmium and Lead. This is one area where more time is needed to get expert advice before any irrevocable decision is taken. To the East of
the proposed site runs the A1, a main arterial road from London to the North carrying a mixture of heavy goods vehicles with car traffic on dual carriageways. Accidents on this busy stretch of road are already a common occurrence. Residents of Egmanton fear that the sheer size of the solar field being so close to the road will distract drivers and create an accident black spot. Furthermore, this site is close to the anaerobic digestion plant now approved.

Satisfying short-term financial interests
The villagers of Egmanton view this proposal as a blatant commercial interest with a short-term profit-orientated motive clothed in a green suit already tarnished by growing scientific evidence (see “Macro” below). Proper consideration must be afforded to succeeding generations as they rue the day good agricultural land was industrialised for no good reason. By their own admission, the developers of this scheme forecast income of £980,000 per annum and a sale-on of the capital scheme to a third-party investor soon after commissioning the farm. The shareholders of a buyer will have little if any interest in the welfare of Egmanton residents. This would be so even if some financial compensation was on offer (which, to our knowledge, it isn’t). Even with wind renewables there is at least a voluntary agreement in place to make a financial contribution as “Community Benefit”. Compounding this negative, evidence is growing of adverse impact on property prices in all areas blighted by ad-hoc schemes of this nature.

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.

In the UK schemes are well advanced to secure the nation’s future energy supply. Fracking, under which local communities will be fully consulted at the outset and where financial compensation is already heralded, is one example. Others include the conversion of coal-fired power stations to production from biomass (example DRAX), the storage of gas under the North Sea for which a scheme has already been approved and the approval of the first two new nuclear plants with, it is reported, eleven more in the pipeline. Furthermore, new technologies on a macro scale are the current subject of study papers.

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.

20 January 2014