MP ‘has not listened’ to what villagers want, claim farmers

John Hayes
John Hayes
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Supporters of a plan for a solar farm in Sutton St James have criticised MP John Hayes after he spoke against what they claim is a development the village wants.

Mr Hayes was stopped outside the South Holland District Council offices on Wednesday night after planners refused the development.

The owner of the land at New Fen Dike, who along with his supporters preferred not to be named, said animal fodder was currently grown on the site where the 12 hectare development would be because the soil was too poor for other crops. He said: “Do they want us to lose our farms? I will appeal.”

One young farmer with the group said: “What is there not to like about solar energy? Would people rather have ugly power stations or wind turbines?”

Another said: “No-one would see the solar panels – villagers have huge fences around their homes. With the changes regarding subsidies for farmers, they need this kind of thing to survive. What’s more, the village wants this.”

With 35 letters of support, against 17 objections, planners were expected to give the green light to the plan by Little Eau Solar to install ground-mounted solar panels, transformer stations and an electricity sub-station on 12 hectares of arable land.

It would have a life-span of 25 years, come with annual community development fund of £2,500. power around 939 homes and save approximately 2,714 tonnes of CO2 from being produced.

However, the plan was refused after Mr Hayes addressed the committee on new policy regarding renewables on agricultural land.

Mr Hayes read from a letter sent to him from James Wharton MP, Minister for Growth and the Northern Powerhouse, which referred to new measures to steer solar development onto industrial rooftops. It said: “National Planning Policy Framework asks local planning authorities to take into account the benefits of the best and most versatile agricultural land and states where significant development of agricultural land is shown to be necessary, areas of poorer quality land should be used in preference to that of higher quality.”

Also “in determining solar application, local planning authorities should consider focusing large scale solar farms on previously developed or non-agricultural land”.

Mr Hayes also referred to a statement from DEFRA in 2004, which said, “this year the DCLG amended planning rules to ensure that wherever possible solar installations are not put in fields that could be used for farming.”

He also reminded the council that in July 2015, the Government announced the early closure of financial support for solar projects from April 2016 – “clearly showing that these kind of applications are not what the Government wants to see”.

After the meeting, Mr Hayes said: “I don’t usually speak at these meetings, but I felt I needed to tell them what the new policy is.” Developers BE Renewables Ltd were yesterday awaiting official notification of the decision before deciding whether to appeal.