Solar farm beside beauty spot generates controversy

Broken Scar. Photo: Gordon Hatton.

A water utility firm’s plans to install nearly 16,000 solar panels beside a popular riverside beauty spot has been recommended for approval, despite the proposal generating a litany of objections.

Richmondshire District Council’s planning officers have advised that the “considerable environmental and public benefits” of Northumbrian Water’s ambition to site a nine megawatt solar farm across a site the size of 31 football pitches next to the River Tees at Cleasby, near Darlington, would outweigh any “potential adverse impact”.

The authority’s planning committee will meet on June 7 to consider the firm’s plan to produce more than half of the annual electricity needed for its Broken Scar Water Treatment Works, to help reduce its Co2 emissions by 2,000 tonnes a year.

In application documents, the firm stated the proposal would decarbonise the part of the water supply for 530,000 people in the region.

A spokesman said: “As well as the environmental benefits, the development of solar projects such as this help us to keep our costs down and our customers’ bills as low as possible.

“Our bills are the lowest in England, and with the current energy price rises impacting us as well as our customers, it is more important than ever that we move to local and reliable sources of green energy.”

While the firm has proposed a landscaping scheme in a bid to screen views
of the development, council planners have concluded the visual impact of the solar farm from numerous properties would take decades to be eased, while views from some areas would never be mitigated.

Objectors to the scheme have likened it to an industrial or prison complex, as it would be surrounded a wire fence and some 47 cameras mounted on 4m-high

Objecting to the scheme, a Stapleton and Cleasby Parish Council spokesman said it was “opposed to the industrialisation of the countryside and loss of
quality agricultural land”.

The parish council added: “The use of deer fencing, CCTV cameras and the overall large scale of the site adds to the industrialisation spoiling the asethetics of the landscape.”

Meanwhile, Low Coniscliffe and Merrybent Parish Council said the scheme could increase the risk of flooding elsewhere and that the benefits to the local community would not outweigh its harm.

Previous proposals for solar farms in North Yorkshire have been rejected as national planning guidance encourages focusing large scale solar farms on previously developed and non-agricultural land, and in more discreet locations.

Countryside charity CPRE said the large-scale solar farm was inappropriate in the open countryside, particularly as the firm owned a suitable alternative site nearby.

Nevertheless, district council’s planning officers have concluded the proposals impacts would be “more than sufficiently offset by the significant contribution the development will make towards both the council and Northumbrian Water’s initiatives to tackle climate change”.