Farming cousins put in plans for solar panels

Thursday 7th August 2014 10:00 pm

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TWO landowners are hoping to cover 17 acres of pasture land in the South Hams countryside with 12,600 ground-mounted solar panels. Award-winning sheep farmer Richard Bond, of Colleen Farm, and his cousin Philip Bond, who runs neighbouring Collaton Down farm, near Blackawton, have submitted planning applications to South Hams Council for the photovoltaic panels which would extend across four fields. They would be layered one on top of the other to a height of 2.44m, set out in south facing rows, and designed to enable livestock to continue to graze the land. Both are a re-submission of original applications which were submitted in March this year and withdrawn after South Hams Council requested further survey work. The proposed 2.2MW ground-mounted solar farm over 12 acres at Richard Bond's Colleen Farm would consist of about 9,060 individual non-reflective photovoltaic panels that would generate sufficient electricity to supply 503 houses. The farm consists of 80 acres separated by the A3122 and is currently used primarily for sheep grazing and is a ranging area for a flock of 12,000 free- range hens. The land also accommodates a small scale wind turbine and an array of 10kw solar panels. At 72-acre Collaton Down farm, Philip Bond has submitted an application to install 886KW of ground mounted PV's on six acres of adjacent land currently being used for grazing livestock. The solar farm proposed would consist of 3,544 individual no-reflective PVs and would generate enough electricity to supply 85 homes. Should both be granted planning permission, their respective permitted installations would be undertaken as a single development. The Environment Agency considers that both proposals would only be acceptable if a condition is included to ensure the construction and maintenance of a suitable drainage system to control surface water. The highways authority has no objection in principle to a solar farm in either location. However, the entrance directly off the A3122 is considered 'quite narrow' and it would like further information to ensure safe access in and out of the site. One letter of objection said Richard Bond would be taking good agricultural land out of food production and animal feed for 25 years or more and the development would be at a cost to the environment and a 'blot on the landscape'. 'With the number of applications in the area of South Hams, there will be nothing left of the countryside for the tourist to enjoy,' the objector wrote in a letter to South Hams Council. In response to Philip Bond's application, Dr D Lloyd-Edwards, from Stoke Fleming, wrote: 'The countryside of the South Hams is becoming inundated by these solar farms that, apart from making an easy buck for farmers and land owners, does little to improve the country's carbon footprint and even less of the world's.' Another objector, Robert Ireland, of Downton Farmhouse, Dittisham, said while Philip Bond's proposal was less than half the size of the Colleen Farm application, he believed it posed the same threats to the countryside as together they covered a 'considerable' 17 acres. Fiona Hughes, of Redstone, Halwell, said the proliferation of this type of application was 'simply absurd'. In a letter to the planning authority, Blackawton parish clerk Steve Gale said the parish council supported both applications. Halwell and Moreleigh Parish Council unanimously objected to both applications, claiming the installation would be a 'major industrial development' and out of keeping with its surroundings in terms of scale and character. Cornworthy Parish Council said it did not receive either application in time for its July meeting and would not be meeting again until September, so was unable to comment. Devon County Council's historic environment team is calling for the applicants to carry out a geophysical survey pre-determination of the proposal as the site is in a sensitive archaeological area and some 900 metres from the Scheduled Monument of Halwell Camp. English Heritage did not wish to comment on either application. Information submitted on behalf of the applicants to the district planners said a desk top search of the proposed sites has been carried out using the English Heritage website and no 'historic assets' had been revealed within the 250m search area. A design and access statement from the agents Bowler Energy of Derby concludes that both Richard and Philip Bond have diversified their small farming business by direct retailing, a chicken unit and specialised stock breeding. 'They both have experience of renewable energy, having invested in small renewable projects to negate farm energy needs. 'It is generally accepted that farms under 250 acres are no longer viable and likely to be incorporated into larger holdings,' said the report. 'In order to be able to pass these farms to future generations they need to take this opportunity to diversity further. 'The beauty of this development is that it is for a limited period and the farming policies will not alter as the land will still be grazed.' The last date for submissions on both applications is Friday, August 22.

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