Water utility proposes solar farm opposite beauty spot

Broken Scar. Photo: Gordon Hatton.

A wildlife charity has called for a water utility firm to demonstrate how its plan to build a solar farm across 12 hectares of high quality farmland just yards from a popular riverside beauty spot would lead to a measurable gain in biodiversity.

Northumbrian Water, which was this year named on the World’s Most Ethical Companies list, has lodged a request for an Environmental Impact Assessment screening opinion to develop an expansive site on the southern bank of the River Tees, just yards from Broken Scar, near Darlington.

The utility company has lodged documents with Richmondshire District Council to cover a crescent-shaped area of arable fields opposite the scheduled monument waterworks off Coniscliffe Road with photo-voltaic arrays to generate nine million watts of energy, enough to power almost 6,000 homes.

The application states: “The location, layout and design would retain and enhance natural biodiversity and landscape features.

“Extensive mature growth provides effective screening between the monument and the proposed development, thus mitigating against any adverse visual impact.”

Earlier this year, the firm announced in its annual report it was aiming to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2027 and the planning documents state the proposed solar generator would provide renewable electricity to its Broken Scar water treatment works during daylight hours.

The papers ask the council to confirm that a full Environmental Impact Assessment would not be required before gaining planning consent.

The documents state: “The proposal would provide a meaningful quantity of renewable, sustainable and emissions-free electricity to an indispensable public utility committed to transitioning to carbon-free operations faster than any other UK water utility.

“The topography of the site is relatively flat, with an Environment Agency flood defence embankment bounding the north and east of the site. This reduces the visual impact of the proposed development on the adjacent areas.”

Planning consultants for the firm said impact of the solar farm on the area would be lessened by the development being “temporary”, as it was only seeking consent for up to 30 years.

They added while the site had been designated by the Environment Agency as a flood zone, the proposal development had been deliberately designed to be flood resilient, meaning its operation would be unaffected by flooding.

The consultants stated: “The proposed development is also being designed to not alter the flow of water during a flood event. More than 60 other solar
generators have already been installed in equivalent flood zones throughout the UK…

“Supporting this proposal would help both Richmondshire District Council and Darlington Borough Council’s demonstrate local area progress in meeting their own renewable energy targets as well as national targets.”

The papers claim the proposal would produce “substantial ecological benefits to the site” largely aimed at species that are of local conservation priority including bats, reptiles, birds, brown hare and dingy skipper.

In response to the plans, Yorkshire Wildlife Trust said it broadly supports measures to reduce consumption of non-renewable energy sources, but for each source of renewable energy there may be environmental impacts as well as benefits, depending on where a development is sited.

A trust spokesman said: “Large-scale solar developments are a potential concern in sensitive locations, as they could cause reduce the suitability of habitats for key species. “

The trust said it expected all potential impacts of the scheme during construction, operation and decommissioning to be thoroughly examined, including “potential for collision risk for birds moving to or between these wetland sites”.