'Planners must switch on to impact of solar farms’

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WHEN you think of solar panels, a few pieces of glass on a neighbour’s roof usually springs to mind. But acres of land are being covered by panels. Now the Oxfordshire branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England wants councils to draw up a policy to control them.

DR HELEN Marshall, director of CPRE Oxfordshire, said she was concerned at the level of applications in the pipeline for solar farms and believes it is “industrialisation” of farmland.

Oxford Mail:

  • CPRE branch chairman Dr Helen Marshall

She said: “The cumulative impact of all these sites could be enormous.

“It is something we are urging district councils to take into account.

“We believe it is an industrialisation of our landscape and an inappropriate use of agricultural land when we are already importing so much food.

“I think the message about the unsuitability of wind turbines in many locations has finally got through, but developers are now turning to solar farms as the next option.

“The subsidies can make it seem like an attractive proposition.

“As a farmer, if you are suddenly offered the chance to make a financial killing on a bit of your land, you would naturally be tempted.

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“However, the point of the planning system is to balance these issues and to help protect the landscape and environment for everyone.”

Because solar farms are fairly new it is unclear what could happen to the land once they reach the end of their lifespan.

The CPRE is also concerned solar farms could set a precedent and be viewed as brownfield sites, which in future could pave the way to permission for further development.

Dr Marshall said in order to protect farmland, councils should be setting policies.

She said: “We would like each district council to set a robust local policy on solar farms, setting out where and where not they will be considered, and bearing in mind the cumulative impact.

“Our own view is they should only be allowed on the roofs of existing buildings or in other sites where they are effectively concealed by existing development or the lie of the land, and do not involve the loss of land useful for agriculture, recreation or biodiversity. CPRE Oxfordshire believes renewable energy is desirable but not at unacceptable cost to the countryside or to the economy.

“We are particularly opposed to solar farms in Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the Green Belt.

“We do not consider that the minimal benefit they offer in terms of renewable energy is sufficient to offset the environmental harm they create or the otherwise useful land that is lost.

“There are enormous levels of development being proposed for Oxfordshire – 100,000 houses within 17 years. Surely, with some joined up thinking, we can build in renewable energy generation to these plans without giving up yet more of our precious countryside.”

Benefiting community not energy firms

Oxford-based social enterprise The Low Carbon Hub is using solar panels to benefit local communities instead of energy firms.

It is promoting a scheme whereby schools across the county put solar panels on their roofs to cover a large proportion of the cost of electricity for running the school.

At peak sun times in the summer holidays the electricity is sold to the national grid.

These smaller schemes are paid for by selling shares in the scheme to the community.

St Barnabas School, in Jericho, Oxford, is the most recent school to have PV panels installed, costing £37,000.

Oxford Mail:

  • Als Parker and Adriano Figueiredo, of Oxford Community Hub at St Barnabas School in Jericho, where solar panels have been fitted to the roof

Low Carbon Hub operations director Adriano Figueiredo said: “We did a share offer and raised all the money. A lot of local people invested.”

Shareholders get a dividend on their investment of up to 8.5 per cent and any surplus cash is ploughed back into low carbon community projects.

So far 33 schools have signed up – Mr Figueiredo said surveys would take place and he expected about 25 of those roofs would be capable of holding the panels.

The Low Carbon Hub has launched a similar business initiative in Bicester surveying firms roofs and is working to get companies on board.

It hopes business roofs could soon hold about 10,000 solar panels to help create a greener town.

Green Belt site approved on appeal

ONE controversial solar farm site in the Oxfordshire Green Belt at Bletchingdon, near Bicester, has been approved on appeal.

The move has led to Dr Marshall firing off a letter to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Eric Pickles urging him to call in the decision.

The plans, by ROC Energy, include a solar farm, equipment rooms, security fencing up to 2m high and landscaping across just over eight hectares of land at Rowles Farm.

A report said the site would generate enough electricity to power 2,500 homes and offset almost 5,300 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions a year. In his ruling, Inspector Paul Griffiths said the considerable benefits of the proposal outweighed the harm.

But Dr Marshall said: “We are opposed to the solar farm at Bletchingdon because of the detrimental effect on the local landscape and the loss of agricultural land.

“We are particularly concerned because the site is within the Oxford Green Belt on the edge of the Otmoor Basin.

“This would be the first solar farm permitted within the Oxford Green Belt and would therefore set a dangerous precedent.

“The application was originally turned down by Cherwell District Council and we were shocked the inspector overturned this decision at appeal.”

Dr Marshall added: “This seems to fly in the face of recent government guidance restating the importance of the Green Belt and the need for exceptional circumstances before such development should be allowed.

“We cannot see what exceptional circumstances apply in this case.

“We have therefore written to Eric Pickles asking him to review the decision.

“We hope anyone who shares our concern will do the same.”

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Comments (8)

Please log in to enable comment sorting

9:16am Sun 18 May 14

wales01man says...

There are thousands of Acres of farmland in Oxfordshire and the rest of this Country that can only be seen a few people and are not visible from houses or housing developments,If we are to increase the supply of renewable energy solar farms wind turbines Etc. must be used CPRE seems to want to dictate what is used to meet the needs.
As so much of Oxfordshire is owned by rich landowners with thousands of Acres of land unseen and unused by anyone else perhaps they can campaign for access to this land or do they object only to these developments that increase the Farmers income and contribute to the energy needs of the majority not just a few Nimbys
There are thousands of Acres of farmland in Oxfordshire and the rest of this Country that can only be seen a few people and are not visible from houses or housing developments,If we are to increase the supply of renewable energy solar farms wind turbines Etc. must be used CPRE seems to want to dictate what is used to meet the needs. As so much of Oxfordshire is owned by rich landowners with thousands of Acres of land unseen and unused by anyone else perhaps they can campaign for access to this land or do they object only to these developments that increase the Farmers income and contribute to the energy needs of the majority not just a few Nimbys wales01man
  • Score: -4

12:43pm Sun 18 May 14

Sandy Wimpole-Smythe says...

Dear CPRE, when you can come up with a viable alternative then I might be interested in what you have to say.
Dear CPRE, when you can come up with a viable alternative then I might be interested in what you have to say. Sandy Wimpole-Smythe
  • Score: -2

1:34pm Sun 18 May 14

wales01man says...

CPRE is a Charity ?
It pays according to the 2012 accounts one staff member over 90K what are they protecting the staff or the country?
CPRE is a Charity ? It pays according to the 2012 accounts one staff member over 90K what are they protecting the staff or the country? wales01man
  • Score: 1

4:51pm Sun 18 May 14

gans shakes says...

I'm disabled and live in a Sheltered Tenancy Bungalow. Wouldn't it be worth the Council expenditure to install solar panels at every Council Tenancy and rooftop of the shops that are not visible to the shoppers? We could easily implement this without interfering in the view. I hope that the extension of the Colleges on the site of the former Radcliffe Infirmary would be already fitted with this technology.

Or do we want to wait for the costs of electricity continue to soar and a real crisis occurs? A quick glance at our tariffs prove that the Tipping Point has begun. We are known as a city that takes innovation and progress as important as the building from which advances have lead the world. The time is now. Frakking is not a desired policy here because we would poison the water through to London and beyond. There is no such thing as clean coal at this time, if ever.

I remember during the Olympics there were these beautiful wind turbines that were not shaped as a windmill, but the blades were rotating around the lighting of the pavement. This could be easily installed, without the noise nor environmental impact of the larger turbines.

Oxford should become the city that treasures the old and new. If we do not act swiftly we will find a further acceleration of decline in living standards, not only for our well-heeled Oxonians but for the more modest means of those that live in this city. For those that oppose such measures I find suspicion that suggests someone is benefitting from the utility companies.
I'm disabled and live in a Sheltered Tenancy Bungalow. Wouldn't it be worth the Council expenditure to install solar panels at every Council Tenancy and rooftop of the shops that are not visible to the shoppers? We could easily implement this without interfering in the view. I hope that the extension of the Colleges on the site of the former Radcliffe Infirmary would be already fitted with this technology. Or do we want to wait for the costs of electricity continue to soar and a real crisis occurs? A quick glance at our tariffs prove that the Tipping Point has begun. We are known as a city that takes innovation and progress as important as the building from which advances have lead the world. The time is now. Frakking is not a desired policy here because we would poison the water through to London and beyond. There is no such thing as clean coal at this time, if ever. I remember during the Olympics there were these beautiful wind turbines that were not shaped as a windmill, but the blades were rotating around the lighting of the pavement. This could be easily installed, without the noise nor environmental impact of the larger turbines. Oxford should become the city that treasures the old and new. If we do not act swiftly we will find a further acceleration of decline in living standards, not only for our well-heeled Oxonians but for the more modest means of those that live in this city. For those that oppose such measures I find suspicion that suggests someone is benefitting from the utility companies. gans shakes
  • Score: 2

9:32pm Sun 18 May 14

Richard of Wantage says...

100,000 new homes being built in Oxfordshire. 100,000 new roofs tops that could have solar panels installed. Problem solved!

Ah! not so simple, it requires the district councils being proactive and think outside the box which isn't in their nature.
100,000 new homes being built in Oxfordshire. 100,000 new roofs tops that could have solar panels installed. Problem solved! Ah! not so simple, it requires the district councils being proactive and think outside the box which isn't in their nature. Richard of Wantage
  • Score: 7

11:19pm Sun 18 May 14

Headington mum says...

If the farmland can be used for crops or animals combined with solar panels then it's an excellent idea. We need more renewable energy to preserve our enironment.
If the farmland can be used for crops or animals combined with solar panels then it's an excellent idea. We need more renewable energy to preserve our enironment. Headington mum
  • Score: 2

11:32pm Sun 18 May 14

wales01man says...

If someone tried to fill the site of the now dead didgot coal fired power station there would still be some who object We need a firm commitment to energy supply in this country set in stone for the future time for some thought on the subject
If someone tried to fill the site of the now dead didgot coal fired power station there would still be some who object We need a firm commitment to energy supply in this country set in stone for the future time for some thought on the subject wales01man
  • Score: 0

12:09am Tue 20 May 14

Andrew:Oxford says...

wales01man wrote:
CPRE is a Charity ?
It pays according to the 2012 accounts one staff member over 90K what are they protecting the staff or the country?
There are several parts to the CPRE. Some of it is a charity, the other part is a company.

As you have spotted the CPRE pay a fairly decent wage to their directors to get their pus* in the press to prevent anything being built in the countryside.






*Scottish slang for face.
[quote][p][bold]wales01man[/bold] wrote: CPRE is a Charity ? It pays according to the 2012 accounts one staff member over 90K what are they protecting the staff or the country?[/p][/quote]There are several parts to the CPRE. Some of it is a charity, the other part is a company. As you have spotted the CPRE pay a fairly decent wage to their directors to get their pus* in the press to prevent anything being built in the countryside. *Scottish slang for face. Andrew:Oxford
  • Score: 0

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