Sunnica solar farm would 'dramatically change landscape for generations' warns Suffolk County Council
Councillors have delivered a damning assessment of giant solar farm plans on the Suffolk/Cambridgeshire border, dubbed 'deeply unsatisfactory and unsuitable' that will 'permanently change a unique part of Suffolk'.
Suffolk County Council's cabinet unanimously agreed its response to object to the development consent order for Sunnica solar farm in West Suffolk.
The project, which would span 981 hectares (2,782 acres) of agricultural land for a 40-year lifespan to become the largest solar farm proposal in the UK, would 'represent an important opportunity to help meet the urgent national need for new, renewable, means of energy generation,' according to developers.
But Suffolk County Council raised a host of concerns over the plans and the engagement work to date, and stressed that while it was supportive of renewable energy generation it couldn't be used to justify 'poorly developed schemes in the wrong location, of inappropriate scale, lacking in sufficient details and without due regard being made to local communities'.
Richard Rout, Conservative cabinet member for the environment and finance, said: "We currently cannot support this solar farm because the huge size of the development extending to thousands of acres hasn't been justified, and the fact that the planning application is very seriously flawed."
Among issues raised were fears it would 'dramatically change the landscape of the area for generations' and said the developers' studies had underestimated impacts.
Cllr Rout said the mitigation measures were not evidence based and transport matters had not been brought forward to the level expected. In addition, the council does not believe employment and economic benefits cited would be as significant as suggested.
He added: "This is a deeply unsatisfactory and unsuitable application which will permanently change a unique part of Suffolk which has been shaped by agriculture and horse racing.
"It's massively lacking in sufficient detail and we are confronted by an applicant who is not paying due regard to the majority of our concerns or the need for us to be adequately resources to engage with them, or indeed represent our communities."
Division councillor Rachel Hood added that it was 'not a farm, it's a damaging industrial blight destroying good farmland that should be providing food for our country people'.
The solar farm plans include four main sites grouped into Sunnica East, largely in Suffolk, and Sunnica West in Cambridgeshire.
In Suffolk, Sunnica East A incorporates land north of Freckenham and south east of Islesham, while Sunnica B lies between Freckenham, Worlington and Red Lodge.
Opposition Green, Liberal Democrat and Independent group leader Andrew Stringer said that 'sadly there were many' shortcomings to the application, adding: "The pressure to put large-scale solar farms in agricultural fields is a consequence of failing to compel new buildings to fit solar panels and to sufficiently retrofit existing buildings. The Conservatives are now having to compensate this neglect with projects that will affect Suffolk’s unique countryside, if approved in their current form."
He added: “We need community-owned schemes instead of grid-scale commercial schemes. Renewable projects where local communities can begin to own their energy supply. This is what will help drive positive attitudes towards necessary results”.
In its application, Sunnica said it would generate power exceeding 50 megawatts and had reduced the land to be occupied by 189 hectares since work on the scheme began in 2015 to address concerns over its scale.
It said it had demonstrated 'good design and would deliver sustainable development that is adapted to future climate change'.
It added: "Visual, ecological and archaeological mitigation is proposed which includes proposed grassland planting and new woodland; retention of existing woodland, wetlands and other vegetation; provision of replacement habitat; and offsetting areas, where there will be no development."
As the scheme is a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project, the final decision will be made by the secretary of state following an examination period by a planning inspector, with Suffolk County Council's response forming part of the evidence base for the decision.