Solar punt is an affront

Friday 22nd April 2016 7:04 am
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Richard Howell, of North Huish, South Brent, writes:

Deciding to support the application to install a further 20 acres of solar panels at Oldstone Farm, Blackawton, at the meeting of the development management committee last Wednesday, the deputy chairman of that committee made the point that any refusal might be overturned on appeal.

Although a planning inspector had recently supported the council’s recent decision to refuse permission for a solar farm at Harberton, Cllr Foss reminded his fellow councillors that the same had not been true previously in the case of the Lower Slade Farm development just outside Kingsbridge.

Perversely, this might not have been the best example that he could have chosen to employ.

To begin with, our planners opted to determine that application in September 2013 on the basis that it would comprise 15,360 panels occupying 9.88 hectares. Yet in May, some four months earlier, the applicant had submitted revised plans for the site, reducing the number of panels by 30 per cent to 10,800 and the extent of land required by 26 per cent, to 7.34 hectares.

The council had therefore chosen to reject something that the developers were no longer requesting, and the inspector made the point: ‘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.’

The inspector went on to declare: ‘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 CA appraisal or other information that 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.’

Finally, the council’s decision notice stated: ‘The proposal is therefore contrary to.’ But it omitted to say what it might actually be contrary to.

As a result, and as the inspector pointed out: ‘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.’

It appeared that nobody at the council had even bothered to read their own decision notice prior to publication. Small wonder the inspector found in favour of the Lower Slade Farm applicant and, unless Cllr Foss lacked ­confidence in the council’s ­ability to properly determine the Oldstone Farm application, it was hardly a reason to argue that it should be approved.

Yet despite strong local ­opposition and an impassioned declaration by Blackawton and Stoke Fleming ward councillor Michael Hicks that ‘I for one am really upset that we’re having to put up with this again and again and again’, all but two members of the DMC voted to approve the application.

Sadly, as long as there are subsidies to be milked, it seems our elected representatives will continue to give their support to those doing the milking.

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