Critics of a massive solar farm have accused developers of a ‘shamefully inadequate’ consultation while West Oxfordshire's MP has demanded it be restarted.

The second round of public consultation on Botley West solar farm ends next week (February 8).

Community group Stop Botley West say the in-person meetings consisted of  "generalised claims", a lack of "objective, independently verified answers", "misleading visuals" and "a complete lack of experts" to answer technical questions.

The three main villages in the northern site, Wootton, Tackley and Combe, did not receive any of the consultation leaflets and the consultation should be restarted from scratch, they say.

Oxford Mail: Updated map of proposed Botley West Solar Farm

Botley West Solar Farm would span three sites - north of Woodstock, west of Kidlington, and west of Botley.

Developers Photovolt Development Partners (PVDP). say it will cover 2,471 acres, but Stop Botley West claim this is the space covered by panels and the total power station site is 3,400 acres.

John Orme, a spokesperson for the group, said: "There was no in-person event or information access point in the whole of the northern section of the site - Wootton or Tackley.

"Kidlington and Yarnton in the central section were also excluded from the list of consultation venues.

"The parish of Combe was excluded from the whole consultation despite being only 2km from the site."

The second phase of consultation included updated plans after Merton College, which owned five per cent of the proposed site at Begbroke, pulled out last October.

Mr Orme said there were "misleading visualisations, and no large-scale map showing the whole centre section on one sheet.

"One visitor was heard saying that it was easier to understand Egyptian hieroglyphics than the maps provided."

He added that while he recognised that the environmental information report was a preliminary report, "nevertheless significant key information was missing so could not be consulted on".

"For example, the grounds for establishing the ‘very special circumstances’ required to justify building on the Green Belt, or justification for the 70 per cent biodiversity net gain claim".

Mr Orme attended the Woodstock session and said his main impression "was the almost complete lack of subject-matter experts from PDVP and its advisers RPS. 

"Every time I asked a detailed question on important strategic topics I was told that the relevant expert wasn't attending that session, and could I go to another later meeting."

Oxford Mail: Stop Botley West campaigners at Church Hanborough

Both MPs in the affected areas are opposed to the project.

Conservative Witney and West Oxfordshire MP Robert Courts said residents were "quite rightly furious" about the consultation and "the lack of objectivity, and detailed independent answers to questions on land use and special circumstances". 

He said: "In my view, this consultation must be restarted, with the appropriate level of detail and objectivity included – and with a real readiness to listen to and act on the well-founded concerns that residents rightly have.” 

Oxford West Lib Dem MP Layla Moran, who represents the residents of Botley and Cumnor, said she was also "worried that too little attention is being paid to residents’ concerns.

"The consultation so far has been completely developer-led, and the ultimate planning decision will be made by central government," she said.

"We are seeing an unacceptable deficit of local democracy, when we need to see more openness and transparency, and I raised this issue in Parliament last week."

She added that the suggestion the project was supported by Lib Dems was a 'misrepresentation' of her views.

West Oxfordshire District Council's development control committee will discuss the consultation at a meeting on Monday (February 5) when representatives of all 15 affected parish councils are expected to attend and request to speak.

PVDP expects to submit a Development Consent Order by summer 2024.

The scheme will be decided by the government, via the Planning Inspectorate, and not by local councils.

If it gets the go-ahead from the Secretary of State, building is expected to start in the summer of 2025.

The grid connection agreement date is Autumn 2027.

PVDP said its 10-week consultation process "has gone over and above the regulatory requirements for a 28-day process". 

"The scope of this process was set out clearly in the Statement of Community Consultation, on which PVDP consulted all host local planning authorities (LPAs)."

PVDP said it has distributed materials and held in-person events over a broad range of locations, all advertised and agreed with the LPA in advance.

"It worked closely with the community in all cases, with certain consultation meetings arranged at locations that were not required, but requested by local people or an LPA.

"All Landscape and Visual Impact Assessment (LVIA) viewpoint visualisations for the process were accurate, objective, and agreed by the LPAs, with photographs and photomontages produced in accordance with the LVIA code of practice.

"While it is simply not feasible for all technical specialists at once to attend all events, any question directed to the project inbox is answered by the appropriate technical specialist."