Nick Herbert: ugly solar farms must not damage beautiful West Sussex countryside
Nick Herbert has spoken out strongly against large-scale solar farms near Ashurst, arguing that acres of panels will damage beautiful countryside.
The Conservative Party Parliamentary Candidate for Arundel & South Downs visited Ashurst at the invitation of local residents on Sunday to see the site where a solar farm has been approved and another which is under consideration.
Horsham District Council rejected an application by Hadstone Energy for a 44 acre solar farm at Priors Byne Farm near Ashurst last year, but the decision was overturned by the Planning Inspectorate last month.
Mr Herbert had written to the Council drawing its attention to the then Minister for Energy and Climate Change’s letter to planning authorities making clear his concerns about large, inappropriately sited green field solar farms.
The Inspectorate is now set to decide whether two other solar farm applications which were also turned down by Horsham District Council should be allowed. The Council decided that the damage to the landscape from all three schemes would outweigh the environmental benefits.
Mr Herbert was shown one of the proposed sites, at Sopers Copse, Honeybridge Lane, by Ashurst residents Mark Knight and John Chapman. The 22 acre site is just yards from the solar farm which has already been allowed, while a third application is on a site of 88 acres less than 10 miles away, at Huddlestone Farm near Steyning.
Mr Herbert said: “The countryside here at Ashurst is very beautiful, and I simply cannot understand how the Planning Inspectorate could have ignored repeated statements of Government policy and the Council’s concerns to allow this damage to the landscape.
“I am all in favour of solar panels in the right places, for instance on buildings as I saw recently at Downlands School, but we should not allow the careless industrialisation of the West Sussex countryside with acres of ugly solar farms.”
Mr Herbert confirmed that he would write to the Environment Secretary to protest about the Inspectorate’s decision and request that the other appeals are “called in” so that they are heard by the Secretary of State himself rather than the Planning Inspectorate.
Earlier this year Mr Herbert moved an amendment in the Commons to abolish the Planning Inspectorate, following which the Government promised new planning guidance to “defend the interests of local authorities”.
Last month the Communities & Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles issued the new guidance, emphasising the need to protect the landscape and re-stating that that solar farms should not be built on high quality agricultural land.
The Government has emphasised the importance of focusing solar energy growth on domestic and commercial roof space and previously developed land. Mr Pickles said: "Meeting our energy goals should not be used to justify the wrong development in the wrong location and this includes the unnecessary use of high quality agricultural land. Protecting the global environment is not an excuse to trash the local environment."
Local residents fear that if the Sopers Copse appeal is allowed there will be swathes of solar panels in the heart of beautiful countryside. They have dismissed claims that the panels will be good for the environment as “greenwash”, warning that the landscape will be damaged for a generation.
Ashurst resident Mark Knight said: "We are encouraged by Nick Herbert's support in helping us fight a second solar farm in Ashurst. The cumulative effect of such a decision by the Planning Inspectorate would be disastrous.
"It makes no sense for solar panels to be installed on a huge area of farmland near Ashurst while at the same time thousands of new houses and flats are being built on farmland near Horsham with not a solar panel in sight. It doubles the negative impact on the environment.
"The companies which are financing these projects are only interested in making money and fool no one with their greenwash tactics.”
1. Photograph 1 - (Left to Right) John Chapman, Nick Herbert and Mark Knight on a footpath on the Priors Byne site which will become a solar farm, looking towards the Sopers Copse site, with Chanctonbury Ring on the South Downs in the distance.
2. Nick Herbert’s news release of 13 April on the Government’s new planning guidance: http://www.nickherbert.com/news.php/618/government-emphasises-landscape-protection-in-planning-decisions
3. Nick Herbert’s news release of 23 March praising Downlands School’s solar panels project: http://www.nickherbert.com/news.php/611/nick-praises-downlands-schools-solar-panel-project.
4. Horsham District Council’s Development Control Committee decisions, 15 April 2014: https://www.horsham.gov.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0012/6411/DCS140415.pdf.
5. Planning Inspectorate’s decision on Priors Byne Farm, 18 March 2015: https://acp.planningportal.gov.uk/ViewCase.aspx?Caseid=2219843&CoID=0.
6. Sopers Copse, Honeybridge Lane appeal: https://acp.planningportal.gov.uk/ViewCase.aspx?CaseID=2222037&CoID=0