Council leader warns ‘environment will have to change’ as solar farm approved

Broken Scar. Photo: Gordon Hatton.

Residents have been told they have no right to a view and that they will have to accept changes to their surroundings as part of the battle to counter climate change.

Richmondshire District Council’s leader, Councillor Angie Dale, issued the warning as councillors unanimously approved Northumbrian Water creating a solar farm opposite Broken Scar, one of the most popular beauty spots in the Darlington area, despite residents likening it to a “prison compound”.

She said: “We are in a climate emergency, councillors declared one in 2019, and that does mean things will have to change in Richmondshire, whether we like it or not.

“I also work in a food bank and I see the impact of the cost of living on people. I see that daily, with at least 70 people coming through the door on a weekly basis.”

A Richmondshire planning meeting also heard the committee’s chair Councillor John Amsden tell residents there is no right to maintain a view amid objections the solar farm would feature panels raised up to four metres above the flood zone.

A Northumbrian Water spokesman told the meeting there were few places where a solar generator could easily connect into the electricity grid, and the development would enable the firm to keep its place as the lowest cost water supplier by producing all the power for its Broken Scar treatment works.

The water utility firm said the solar farm would produce 9MW of renewable energy, saving about 2,000 tonnes of Co2 a year and easing the cost of living crisis for customers.

The spokesman said the scheme would benefit 600,000 people and offset more than £600,000 in energy price increases to customers bills in its first six months.

The meeting heard the solar farm would be enclosed by enclosed by a 2.2-metre high wire and timber fence featuring 47 CCTV cameras with attached loudspeakers on four-metre high poles to deter intruders.

Residents of some of the 34 properties which will be directly affected by development said having nearly 16,000 solar panels across 16.5 hectares of farmland which had been classed as “best and most versatile” would have a “major negative visual impact”.

One resident told the committee: “This industrial installation will spoil the area. Is that what we want for our countryside?”

Another resident added: “The fence compound and security cameras will make it look like a prison compound which will look horrendous in such a picturesque setting.”

They told the committee while they supported solar farms in principle, the proposal was in the wrong location and would cause considerable harm to the wellbeing of the community and impact on the popular Teesdale Way walking route.

However, farmer Jonathan Bell said leasing the land to Northumbrian Water for 30 years would provide a steady and reliable income whatever the weather.

He said: “As an agricultural business we feel it should be up to us to manage our risk and be the ones to decide what we grow on our fields, be that strawberries in polytunnels, maize, barley or solar panels.”

An officer stated while the solar farm could impact on views from properties in Low Coniscliffe, the planned hedges and trees would take many years to obscure the solar farm from some homes.

Officers told members while the development of renewable energy schemes were supported by policies of the council and the government, national guidelines stated solar farms should be sited on poorer quality agricultural land where possible, but that should not be the deciding factor.