Countryside campaign group ‘extremely disappointed’ at green light for ‘industrial-scale’ solar farm in East Devon

A campaign group which aims to protect the countryside says it is ‘extremely disappointed’ a massive, ‘industrial-scale’ new solar farm will be built in East Devon.

District council planning chiefs unanimously approved plans for land east of Rutton Farm – between Talaton and Whimple – at a meeting last week, writes Local Democracy Reporter Ollie Heptinstall.

At around 58 hectares, the solar farm will take up the space of around 100 football pitches during its 40-year lifespan for which planning permission has been granted. Much of the land, however, can still be used for grazing.

The facility will reportedly produce enough energy to power 12,000 homes.

Recommending approval, despite the loss of good-quality agricultural land, planning officers decided the scheme complied with East Devon’s policies – including ‘environmental benefits’ from renewable energy production and biodiversity net gain.

However, a number of objections were raised; most notably concerning the number of HGV lorry trips needed to transport the panels along the narrow Talaton to Whimple road.

In a statement, Penny Mills, the director of Devon Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), said it is ‘extremely disappointed’ councillors decided to permit this ‘industrial-scale solar farm in the heart of East Devon’s countryside’.

She added: “It was the third time it had gone to committee, having been deferred originally for a site visit, and then again to discuss some possible amendments of the scheme with the developer.

“The new committee of councillors elected in the recent local elections unanimously agreed without having a site visit.”

Ms Mills said Whimple is also facing a new planning application for a ‘massive battery system that would cover almost 120 acres of farmland’.

Proposals for another solar farm at Marsh Green are the subject of an appeal – with a public inquiry due to be held in September.

“Let’s hope that East Devon District Council puts up a really good fight on behalf of the local community who have strongly opposed this proposal from the start,” said Ms Mills.

“Our map shows all of Devon’s solar farms, 65 currently, comprising thousands of acres of precious farmland which we need for food production.”

CPRE prefers solar panels to go on commercial or domestic property roofs rather than farms.

Speaking in favour of the scheme, retired energy engineer Geoffrey Whitehouse said: “The application contributes to reducing energy costs and is an efficient use of land for energy generation and needs immediate action.

Meanwhile Keith Hoskin, who owns Rutton Farm, said the land retains ‘so much water’ that it meant only sheep can be kept there in the winter.

He added that, in summer, the ground ‘dries out so hard’ to allow arable production in only a small area.

He told councillors that grass could still be grown under and around solar panels, while sheep ‘can and do’ graze around and under them, while offering shelter for them.

“Clean, green, renewable electricity for 12,000 houses for the next 40 years must make sense,” Mr Hoskin added.

More than 20 farm fields near villages in East Devon are earmarked for a new solar farm to power 12,000 homes over the next 40 years