Shambles over solar farm plan

Thursday 21st August 2014 10:00 pm
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Richard Howell, of North Huish, South Brent, writes: The inspector appointed by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government has recently decided to overrule a decision of South Hams Council and permit TGC Renewables to build a solar farm just outside Kingsbridge. According to the council, the application – for 15,360 panels – 'would be detrimental to the protection and enhancement of the character and appearance of the South Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the Kingsbridge Conservation Area.' However, the inspector's decision raises a number of questions. To begin with, why did South Hams Council decide, in September 2013, to determine the application on the basis the Lower Slade Farm development would comprise 15,360 panels occupying 9.88 hectares, when some four months earlier, in May, TGC had submitted revised plans for the site, reducing the number of panels by 30 pe cent to 10,800 and the extent of land required by 26 per cent, to 7.34 hectares? The district council was therefore rejecting something the developer was no longer requesting, and the reasons the council gave – or more pertinently did not give for rejection – may no longer have been valid in light of the revisions before them. As the inspector noted: 'The revision would reduce the impact of the scheme upon the living conditions (outlook) of neighbouring residents, as well reducing the impact upon the character and appearance of the area.' Secondly, in the words of the inspector: 'The council is also concerned that the scheme would have an adverse effect upon the character and appearance of the CA (Kingsbridge Conservation Area).' However, he continued: 'I have not been provided with any conservation area appraisal or other information which explains the special qualities of the CA. 'Moreover, there is nothing before me to explain how the appeal site contributes to the significance of this designated heritage asset and my attention has not been drawn to any important viewpoint within the CA.' Perhaps the council naively thought the inspector would be happy to accept any claim without question, or perhaps nobody questioned whether the necessary documentation might be required. And finally the council's decision notice states: 'The proposal is therefore contrary to', while failing to say what it might be contrary to! As a result, and here I quote the inspector: 'The council's decision notice does not identify conflict with any planning policies. 'However, policies are included as part of the 'reasons for refusal' within the officer's delegated report. It appears to me that these policies were omitted in error from the council's decision notice.' Again you might wonder why nobody at the council could be bothered to read their own decision notice prior to publication? Not fit for purpose and a complete and utter shambles would seem too generous a description to describe the workings of our council, but no doubt no heads will roll as a consequence.

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