Agricultural land 'should be protected from solar'
Protesters are gearing up to fight a proposal for a 54-acre solar farm in a beautiful Devon valley.
Renewable company Lightsource intends to submit a planning application for a facility which would produce 12.3MW of energy at Bowhay Farm, in Shillingford Abbot, near Exeter.
The company says sheep could still be farmed on the high-quality agricultural land, which would be restored after 25 years.
But campaigners say they will object to the development, which would be visible for miles around.
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Dudley Swain, chairman of neighbouring Dunchideock Parish Council, called on Devon's local authorities to formulate a policy to protect high-value agricultural land from renewables development.
He said: "It's time they think through a policy, rather than being guided by a planning legislation mantra which is almost set at a default of saying yes.
"There's a huge danger that these things will just sail through the system."
The solar farm would power 3,700 homes, and reduce the parish's carbon footprint by more than six million kilograms a year.
Teignbridge District Councillor Kevin Lake said he was "astounded" to discover it was at least three times larger than a similar application on the same site around three years ago, which was withdrawn.
"I would imagine that it's to do with making the scheme pay with regards to changes in the Feed-in Tariff (solar subsidy)," he said.
Fellow district councillor John Goodey said a campaign was under way to get the whole area classed as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, which would protect against large-scale development.
Mr Goodey was among 100 people to attend a meeting held by Lightsource last week, in which only one person supported the proposal. "The sheer scale of the proposal horrified most of the people in the audience," he said.
Lightsource has been told that it does not need to conduct an environmental impact assessment on screening issues, a decision that Teignbridge District Council insists is strictly laid out in guidelines. The authority says the public will get a full opportunity to respond once any application is filed.
Lightsource said the application is larger than any it has completed so far. It would be among the largest in the Westcountry, although renewables company Kronos recently announced plans for a 22MW site it is planning to develop in Cornwall.
Lightsource senior planner Penelope Laurenson said sheep would be able to graze between and below the panels, and said: "The development will be a temporary use with a planning permission of 25 years, after which all infrastructure will be removed from the site, and agricultural use will continue, be that crops or grazing of animals."
Lightsource has had an independent landscape and visual impact assessment prepared for the site, and this concludes that a solar farm in this location would not cause significant visual or landscape harm."