By Laura White and Joe Ives
A huge solar farm in Torridge has been approved, despite huge opposition from the surrounding community who have described the plans as ‘an insult’.
The Moorlander has previously reported on the campaign to stop the development, led by Devon CPRE and supported by actor John Nettles.
Speaking exclusively to The Moorlander, Mr Nettles said: “164 acres of farmland would be lost to wildlife and livestock, and rendered unusable. Developers claim livestock can continue to graze the land, but that’s nonsense. It would ruin 164 acres of pasture for at least 40 years.
‘We already have several solar farms in this area, we already have more than our fair share. This new proposed development is more than we should be asked to support.”
Over four thousand acres of farmland in Devon, more than seven square miles of agricultural land, have already been developed for solar farms and plans for several other massive solar installations are yet to be decided, totalling 1,000 acres.
The Derril Water proposal is within a mile of the Upper Tamar Area of Great Landscape Value and within two miles of two other AGLVs. However, despite huge opposition and more than 200 objections, Torridge District Council’s plans committee voted five-to-four in favour of granting planning permission for the Derril Water Solar Farm near Holsworthy.
The 163-acre facility will be on a greenfield site described as roughly the size of 2,600 tennis courts.
The company behind the plans, Renewable Energy Systems Ltd (RES), says it will provide low-cost low-carbon electricity for around 12,000 homes, with minimal impact on the surrounding landscape, and will support the local economy.
The decision has left many local residents outraged. Mark Marriott, who owns holiday lets which will have a view directly overlooking the solar farm, spoke on their behalf at the plans meeting. He said: “Without doubt, we’re in support of renewable energy in the right place, but we have to be innovative and not just roll over to big industry who want to make money.
‘COP26 has highlighted the need to deindustrialise and regenerate green spaces – this proposal does exactly the opposite.”
Mr Marriott said planning officers had largely ignored the concerns of the community, adding: “For Torridge to permit such a disengaged business partner to destroy local amenities, farmland, jobs and livelihoods, by turning our parish into an industrial centre for profit is an insult to the community and the worst kind of greenwashing possible – destroying land in the name of the climate crisis.”
In a written statement submitted to TDC before its decision, Pyworthy Parish Council said it objected to the development ‘in the strongest possible terms’.
It argued that the solar farm will create extra traffic and would result in the closure of a successful dairy farm and the loss of valuable farmland. It said the solar farm would ruin the look of the surrounding landscape, negatively impact wildlife and have a ‘massively negative effect on local tourism’.
It said that Pyworthy had already made a major contribution to renewable energy in the area through nearby renewable energy projects, including Crinacott Solar Farm in the village. The new solar farm, they said, is ‘a step too far’.
Speaking to BBC Spotlight before the decision, Rachel Anderson, a spokesperson for RES, said: “Everyone has an opinion and we have a democratic planning process. Whilst we understand that some people are against our project, we do realise it is supported locally as well and we do hope we can bring forward a project that people can really feel is beneficial to the local area.”
The company has said that the panels will, over their lifetime, offset 18,000 tonnes of CO2 compared to fossil fuel energy creation – the equivalent of removing 8,500 cars from the roads, each year. It will also contribute to the local economy to the tune of approximately £162,000, helping to support services and investment during both construction and deconstruction phases.
Cllr Rosemary Lock (Conservative, Two Rivers & Three Moors) said that she recognised that there had been a lot of opposition to the plans but noted that single households had submitted multiple objections on the council’s planning portal, concluding that the overall number of objections should be ‘taken with a pinch of salt’.
Cllr Peter Christie (Greens, Bideford North) said: “We have to have some renewables and they have to go somewhere and unfortunately where they can go is limited.”
Devon CPRE trustee Steve Crowther, who was present at the meeting, argued that 40% of the land chosen for the development was ‘best and most versatile land’ and he believed the council should vote against the decision on the grounds that such land is surely best used for food production.
Cllr Chris Leather (Independent, Northam), chair of the plans committee, argued that the nearby area had already given up its ‘fair share’ of land to renewable energy and that the development would, alongside the renewable energy projects already built nearby, have too much of a negative effect on the character of the area. He said he was disappointed that no environmental impact assessment had been made.
Cllr Richard Boughton (Conservatives, Hartland) recognised there were pros and cons to the development and admitted he was ‘slightly torn on the issue’, before voting against it.
In the end, and after a long debate, the plans committee narrowly voted in approval of the new solar farm. As part of the approval, several conditions were made to limit the disruption on residents and surrounding habitat, both in its construction phase and when the solar farm is up and running.
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