Rise of the solar farms - new sites could cover equivalent of 1,400 football pitches (From Oxford Mail)
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Rise of the solar farms - new sites could cover equivalent of 1,400 football pitches
THE amount of land in Oxfordshire that could be used for solar farms has quadrupled in the last year, new figures show.
This year, plans have been lodged that could see 1,833 acres built over with solar panels – up from 427 acres last year.
The new data, from the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), comes after a series of plans for large-scale solar farms were lodged in the county.
One of them, a 120-acre solar farm near Besselsleigh that was revealed earlier this month, would be the biggest built in the county.
The CPRE said that if all currently submitted plans inside the county were approved, it would see the amount of land currently occupied by solar panels rise to the equivalent of 1,400 football pitches.
Now the group is urging councils to be more careful about where they allow such developments to be built.
Oxfordshire branch director Helen Marshall said: “We believe renewable energy is a good thing, but not at an unacceptable cost to the countryside.
“There are thousands of roofs and industrial buildings that can be used for solar panels before we need to start building all over our valuable agricultural land.
“Often the public are not aware of what has been approved until the building work starts, so it’s really important that local communities have their say.
“Some of these proposed projects will be very visible sites in quite attractive areas. It could have real effect on the visual landscape.”
Over 2012, four solar farms covering 291 acres of greenfield land were approved and five other plans for possible developments were discussed that would cover a further 136 acres.
So far, 2013 has seen applications for seven more solar farms covering 195 acres and talks were held on another nineteen possible developments covering 1,638 acres.
Ms Marshall, right, said the charity had been alerted to the issue when it was contacted by Oxfordshire residents about the lack of greenfield land in their areas.
The group said it was worried that district councils do not realise the potential future impact that the developments will have and has launched its own Countryside Charter to demand more protection for rural open spaces.
Families from Besselsleigh have been protesting against the proposed 120 acre solar farm, which would occupy the green belt area between the village and Besselsleigh Wood.
Besselsleigh Parish Meeting chairman Chris Brand said: “We are very protective of it because this is a pleasant part of the countryside and that is something we want to preserve.
“That is not going to happen with solar panels splattered all over the place.”
But Jamie Hartzell, the managing director of Effex, the company that manages another scheme in Westmill Solar park near Watchfield, said that their project had been hugely successful thanks to its community focus.
He said: “1,500 people have come together to invest in this project and priority was given to people living nearby.
“I think community-led renewables is an exciting way forward. If you want the energy, you have to make your choices.”
The councils at South Oxfordshire and Vale of White Horse and West Oxfordshire all said they consulted with residents on any solar farm plans.
Cherwell District Council declined to comment.
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