Solar farm coming to an East Devon village will power 15,000 homes

A solar farm the size of 116 football pitches coming to East Devon will power around 15,000 homes, writes local democracy reporter Philip Churm.

Plans for a 49-megawatt solar farm in the East Devon village of Clyst Hydon have been given the go-ahead despite more than 340 objections, which included flooding concerns and loss of farmland.

The passed plans prompted some East Devon representatives to question the district council’s solar farm strategy.

Lightrock Power, bringing the solar farm to East Devon, said the finished site will tackle climate change and ’significantly’ benefit the environment.

This site, at Peradon Farm near Clyst Hydon – known as Paytherden Solar Farm – has been chosen due to the availability of connection to the National Grid – meaning that the electricity generated can start powering people’s homes straight away.

The plans were not considered to harm the quality of the agricultural land and will revert to farmland after the 40-year lifespan of the project, the company said.

The plans include more than 600 metres of new hedgerows, and more than three football pitches of woodland.

Lightrock Powersaid the proposals would reduce CO2 emissions by the equivalent of taking 186,000 cars off the road for a year.

Chris Sowerbutts, co-founder of Lightrock Power, said: “This decision will help us to tackle climate change by decarbonising how we generate electricity.

“The decisions we must take to tackle the climate crisis aren’t always easy so we’re grateful to members of the planning committee, council officers and everyone who has engaged in this project.

“We now look forward to continuing to work with the local community, East Devon District Council and other stakeholders to move forward with our plans.”

Lightrock Power said its plans were refined through working with the community and the RSPB, with the environment in mind.

It said more than 200 supportive comments were received in response to the plans.

Mr Sowerbutts said the the solar farm would significantly benefit the environment – helping barn owls to thrive and nest on site, establish otter holts and habitat, improve the banks of the River Clyst for wildlife, including water voles. And improve other existing ecological corridors for reptiles, amphibians, and small mammals including brown hares and hedgehogs.

He said: “We face an ecological crisis as well as a climate crisis so it’s so important solar farms like Paytherden benefit local wildlife as well as generating renewable energy.”

The project, one of four solar developments planned in the same area, is designed for land next to Peradon Farm and includes solar arrays, equipment housing, sub-station, fencing and CCTV.

The applicant, Lightrock Power, which develops large-scale solar farms, aim to cover around 64 hectares (174 acres) with 76,032 electricity-producing panels which could power the equivalent of 15,000 homes.

Objections were received from the local parish council and the Council for the Preservation of Rural England (CPRE), among others.

On Tuesday (July 26), councillors on East Devon District Council’s planning committee questioned Lightrock co-founder Chris Sowerbutts about the plans. Some members suggested there was insufficient information to make a decision.

The Democratic Alliance Group has the largest number of seats on EDDC with Conservatives leading the opposition.

Conservative councillor for Tale Vale and leader of the Tory group Philip Skinner, whose family have been farmers in the area for many years, proposed to defer the decision until further questions could be answered.

Cllr Skinner said he was aware of several other potential solar farms in the pipeline and was concerned the situation could get out of hand.

“What is enough?” he asked fellow councillors.

“What would we find acceptable in acreage of solar panels? If we’re going to take them on the basis of one at a time. At what point does saturation come? Is there a saturation point?”

If all the other solar farm plans were given the thumbs-up, Cllr Skinner believed the amount of land at stake was vast.

“We’re talking about a thousand acres. Is that acceptable? If it is acceptable, that’s fine. Is 2,000 acres acceptable? Is 3,000 acres acceptable?

“Because if you’re going to get to a point, you’re going to say this is not acceptable. We should be finding out what that acceptability is and balancing that back about what energy can be produced from the Broadclyst substation – about what they can take on – for us to understand what acceptability is.”

Cllr Skinner also responded to a question by one objector, Duncan Sykes, who asked what the council’s solar strategy was.

Cllr Skinner said: “That’s a brilliant question.  What is our solar farm strategy?

“Well, I can tell you what our solar farm strategy is at East Devon. We haven’t got one. That’s what the strategy is.

“What we’ve got is applications coming through the process on a local plan that is disappearing, on an emerging local plan that is not yet in place.”

Tory Councillor for Exmouth Littleham, Bruce De Saram backed Cllr Skinner’s proposal to defer a decision and added: “We as a committee are bound to go for deferral because there are so many sites involved, as we’ve seen from the map in front of us.

“So, for those reasons, I go for deferral. But obviously, I’m guided by the other members of the committee and their thoughts.”

Some councillors argued the solar panels may reduce food production by limiting land available for grazing sheep or cows.

But others were more enthusiastic about the solar farm; highlighting the council’s decision to declare a climate emergency in November last year.

Green Party councillor for Exmouth Halsdon, Tony Woodward, said he understood people’s concerns but this was a high priority.

“There needs to be a balance between food production and assessing global warming,” said Cllr Woodward.

“Of course, the war in Ukraine has brought about shortages of food, but the issue is that an emergency has been declared for climate. But there is not yet a food emergency declared.

“So, we have to go with the one which in my view outweighs the other. The climate emergency is more pressing than food production at this time.”

Green Party councillor for Exmouth Town, Olly Davey, went even further saying: “If we’re really concerned about how efficiently we are using our land, then we probably ought to cut down on meat and dairy and move to a plant-based diet.”

The motion to defer the planning decision was rejected and the decision to move forward with the solar farm project was approved by a vote of 10:2 in favour.

After the meeting Chris Sowerbutts said he was happy at the council’s decision but that he understood people’s concerns.

“I don’t think we’re ever going to get to a position where everyone welcomes us with open arms and really wants it to happen.

“But I think the majority of society recognises that it needs to happen. And it’s just about being sensitive and really working on a sensitive design.”

No timescale for the solar farm to be up and running has been given as it also depends on negotiations with Western Power.

 

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