Sutton St james solar farm plan was wholly unsuitable

Solar farm
Solar farm
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Politicians are frequently accused of ‘sitting on the fence’. When it comes to contentious issues it’s all too easy to keep your head down and say nothing. That has never been my way and never will be.

Our long term food security –the interests of future generations- is at stake

Which is why this week I joined residents of Sutton St James objecting to the wholly unsuitable plan to impose a third large solar development on their much loved village. Thanks to the efforts of the local community, South Holland District Council has firmly rejected this ill-judged proposal. Not for the first time, diligent councillors boldly defended our fenland landscape – first it was industrial wind turbines, now large scale solar developments. Nevertheless, the wider question of the countryside’s industrialisation has not gone away.

Our area is home to some of Britain’s best farmland, so it is almost beyond belief that the axiomatic idea that top quality arable land should be used for food production needs to be reaffirmed. To use this fertile soil for any purpose other than what it’s best for is surely as bizarre as it is short-sighted. Our long term food security –the interests of future generations- is at stake. Every time an acre of farmland is developed an acre of food production is lost. Such reckless folly must stop. As Energy Minister I took a stand against the madness of peppering Britain’s countryside with ugly wind turbines – structures imposed on communities against the wishes of those who were forced to live in their shadows.

Thankfully, the Liberal Democrats in Government are now gone, and with them their curious ideas about energy production. Conservative Ministers are ending taxpayer funded support for both onshore wind turbines and solar installations from April next year - these huge payments, designed to encourage sustainable power generation, created a perverse incentive for careless developers to turn green fields into industrial plants.

Renewable supplies of energy can, of course, help to meet demand, but as I said at the council’s planning committee, the Government will encourage solar panels on rooftops rather than undeveloped land. The Campaign to Protect Rural England note that the potential unused space on brownfield sites and commercial rooftops is an area at least twice the size of London – a huge, untapped space where solar energy could be put to use without eating up farmland, so blighting the landscape. Installations on public sector buildings should be a high priority and with the price of solar coming down this can happen without the need for taxpayer subsidies.

Saying one thing and doing another is the resort of those who fear not speaking, but are too fearful to act. I’ve always said large solar development should not be permitted to consume our farmland. As good as my word, I have backed local communities who defend the place they live with such pride and purpose against (sometimes aggressive) developers. Be sure: this politician will say what he thinks and do what he says.

Last week’s column...

How Powell’s 1971 warning has proved true - by MP John Hayes