Solar farm plan beside beauty spot generates concerns

File pic of solar farm. Photo. N Chadwick.

A water utility firm says a designated flood zone site beside a major river is the most appropriate location for solar farm, despite being told it will ruin views around a popular beauty spot for several decades to come.

Northumbrian Water has lodged a planning application with Richmondshire District Council to install multiple rows of solar photovoltaic arrays with a 9MW capacity, surrounded by a fence and CCTV security cameras every 50m, on a 16-hectare site south of Broken Scar, Cleasby, near Darlington for 30 years.

The scheme has attracted controversy as the proposed site, a crescent-shaped parcel of farmland beside the south bank of the River Tees, is overlooked by homes just 100m to the north.

Documents submitted to the authority by agents for the water firm said the solar farm would generate electricity for both its water treatment plant at Broken Scar and for use by local residents.

Agents for the firm have highlighted the green benefits of the initiative and how the district council declared a climate emergency in 2019, committing to working to ensure the whole of Richmondshire achieves net-zero carbon by 2034.

The documents state while a visual impact assessment had identified four places at risk of having “a major negative visual impact” from the proposal, the site was chosen as it needed to be close to the treatment works and be a large enough to produce the intended solar generation.

The papers state: “It was discussed that originally the solar array was to be located to the east of the field, as to reduce visual impact to those in Low Coniscliffe. However, due to the Flood Risk Assessment and insurers, it was concluded that the solar array had to be redesigned to the west of the field, which is unfortunately closer to Low Coniscliffe.

“A number of other nearby locations were assessed, but were all found to offer a worse outcome than the Cleasby site.

“The solar project will not take the site permanently out of agricultural use. A significant part of the field – the lowest lying part, due to the flood risk discussed below – will continue to be farmed.

“It has been emphasised that to mitigate any visual impact, the planting and filling in of the existing hedgerow and planting of new trees has been proposed. Further ways discussed to mitigate visual impact included colouring equipment such as transformer and fencing to a green to fit in with the surrounding natural greenery.”

The scheme has drawn concerns since it was first announced. Last year, Yorkshire Wildlife Trust called on the utility firm to demonstrate how its plan, on 12 hectares of high quality farmland on the southern bank of the River Tees near Broken Scar, would lead to a measurable gain in biodiversity.

Low Coniscliffe councillor Gerald Lee said while solar farm developers were quick to highlight the environmental advantages, using fields that could be producing food raised questions over food security and the carbon footprint of importing food instead.

He added the developers had seemed reluctant to take on board residents’ concerns that the solar fam would would be almost in full view because the houses and gardens of nearby Low Coniscliffe are on much higher ground.

Coun Lee said: “The concern really is instead of looking down across the fields to North Yorkshire they will look down and see glass panels, so the screening really needs to be more thought through and much more relevant.

“From the report it would appear the developers have looked at the site from a certain angle, and having been there to see, from parts of Coniscliffe it will be visible.”

It’s a beautiful view and I totally understand where they are coming from, but a view is not a planning issue. It will take a long time to be screened as the hedge there at the moment will not be high enough.”