Site visit will determine fate of proposed huge solar farm in East Devon

The fate of blueprints for a huge solar farm spanning 182 acres of East Devon countryside are hanging in the balance after councillors decided they wanted to visit the site. 

Proposals for the development at Marsh Green, near Whimple and Rockbeare, had been recommended for approval by officers when they went before district council planning chiefs.

But members deferred their decision and have opted for a site inspection to gauge the bid’s impact on the landscape. This includes the ‘cumulative impact’ including other similar applications already granted consent in the area.

The plans, submitted by the Low Carbon Alliance, have earmarked around 74 hectares of 27 individual, agricultural field parcels for a 30MW solar farm.

It is proposed the site – east and south of of Marsh Green and east of Rockbeare and the A30 – is retained for this use for 40 years.

Associated landscaping and ecological habitat, equipment housing,  a sub-station, fencing, ancillary kit and a temporary construction compound also form part of the application.

Proposals went before East Devon District Council’s (EDDC) Planning Committee at its December meeting.

Councillor Richard Lawrence, who represents Whimple and Rockbeare, expressed concerns around flood risk in the area – saying the development would ‘most certainly exacerbate the problem’.

The Environment Agency also requested the development avoided areas with the highest flood risk and does not create increased risk elsewhere.

Paul Jefferson, chairman of Marsh Green Valley Protection Group, raised concern that the proximity of the mooted solar farm to the village was unprecedented.

He said the plans should include a clause that those responsible for the land must maintain all flood defences to ensure the safety of nearby residents.

Residents also raised concerns over the loss of ‘high-quality arable land’ for the next 40 years.

A Low Carbon Alliance representative referred  a report commissioned by Devon County Council in 2018 that revealed that only nine per cent of the county had access to renewable energy.

In the days leading up to the meeting, an update on this report was released which showed that this number had decreased to 5.6 per cent.

The current target set by the Government is that 80 per cent of UK residents should have access to renewable energy by 2030.

Councillors voted by eight votes to three to defer their decision so a site visit could take place.

Additional reporting by Local Democracy Reporter Georgia Cornish. 

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