Warwick district councillors call for policy to protect against ‘swamp of solar farms’

Many districts and boroughs across Warwickshire are seeing many proposals come forward to boost the country’s renewable energy capacity but the speed at which they are doing so has laid bare the lack of planning policies to control how many get pushed through.
Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now

Councillo are calling for Warwick District Council to create a policy on solar farms amid fears rural land could be swamped by panels.

The district’s planning committee was torn over a number of issues relating to a giant solar farm that will power 7,500 homes near Sherbourne to the south of Warwick.

That application was passed after a similar one had been withdrawn last year while an application on a neighbouring site is the subject of an appeal to the Planning Inspectorate.

Solar panels. Stock image.Solar panels. Stock image.
Solar panels. Stock image.

Many districts and boroughs across Warwickshire are seeing similar proposals come forward for farm land in a bid to boost the country’s renewable energy capacity but the speed at which they are doing so has laid bare the lack of planning policies to control how many get pushed through.

Broadly, any development on green belt land – a circle of unspoiled green space around an urban area maintained to stop it sprawling across the countryside – is prohibited unless “very special circumstances” can be evidenced.

Those wishing to build the farms are applying for temporary permission – typically 40 years – with a promise to restore the sites afterwards, citing the need for cleaner energy generation to address the climate emergency.

The balance is one that frequently divides opinion.

Councillor Lowell Williams (Green, Kenilworth Park Hill) said: “There will come a point in time when I am less convinced of the very special circumstances.

“In this case (the Sherbourne application) I remain convinced because of the obvious crisis that we are suffering now, the lack of production in the district, but it is a good point to make about how this application joins up with others or whether they are always going to be seen individually.”

He asked Lucy Hammond, principal planner at Warwick District Council, what strategy is in place.

Ms Hammond replied: “Simply put, there isn’t one as things stand.

"We don’t have any allocated sites in our local plan for such development so it is very much the case, at present, of assessing these applications as they are put before us, reaching a judgement on their own merits as to whether they are acceptable or not.

“That may change in time but as things stand, we don’t have a strategy.”

Councillor Andrew Day (Con, Bishop’s Tachbrook) added: “I have concerns about where we are going.

“We are updating and reviewing our local plan, the green belt is a big part of what distinguishes our local area and it is being taken piecemeal into solar farms.

“This is the risk we have at the moment because we haven’t yet arrived at our local plan.

“I think the weight on this committee is quite heavy until we get that local plan right because we could end up with virtually no green belt, or a very substantially changed one.

“We have already had HS2 blast its way right through the middle of our green belt so I am not going to pretend the challenge for our local plan is not significant.

"It needs to be refreshed, renewed and I would argue and underline that it be strengthened.”

While opinion was divided over the Sherbourne proposals, there was no dissent over the planning committee – a cross-party panel of councillors tasked with deciding on major or complex planning applications – requesting that the portfolio holder for place, Councillor Chris King (Lab, Leamington Clarendon), “recognises the importance of getting on with a policy so we can handle solar farms in a structured way”.

Cllr Day went on to stress the importance of speed.

“The risk here is we are going to end up with solar panels on the fields in front of north Leamington,” he said.

“If we don’t get on with this quite quickly, every committee has different compositions, we are going to be salami slicing our way through the green belt.”

Related topics: