Growing concern from residents consultation about massive solar scheme set to surround villages just outside Newmarket is not good enough
There is growing concern from residents that a consultation into a 2,800 acre solar farm which will surround villages just outside Newmarket is not good enough.
Under controversial proposals from Sunnica, the sprawling facility will cross both East Cambridgeshire and West Suffolk and stretch from a substation in Burwell to Snailwell, Newmarket, Freckenham, Worlington and Isleham.
And now West Suffolk MP Matt Hancock, whose rural constituency will be changed for the next four decades if the plans are approved by his government, has told worried residents in an online meeting that if the proposals don’t change, it should be opposed.
In the conference call, which around 100 people attended, Steve Wilson, who has been at the forefront of the campaign against the power plant, hit out at Sunnica’s consultation process which, he said, allowed them to avoid questions they didn’t want to answer and stifled debate.
“We just have to swallow the answer and, of course, that’s not just acceptable,” he told the cabinet minister.
Mr Wilson said the impact of the scheme on the area was enormous.
“We feel that it shouldn’t be rushed through and Sunnica should not be able to take advantage of the pandemic to push it on through and not give us the opportunity to study it in detail to be able to modify the scheme or to even gather facts to object to the scheme,” he said.
And Brian Harvey, a West Suffolk district councillor for the area, highlighted the poor attendance of the online consultations, with an average of 20 people taking part in an area of around 2,000 voting residents.
Speaking from his office in the Department for Health on Friday, Mr Hancock said: “I have had concerns about levels of engagement.”
He told constituents: “We should make the case about not enough consultation having being done, not withstanding whether you think this is a good idea or not.”
Mr Hancock said he was working with East Cambridgeshire MP Lucy Frazer to take a joint approach to their response which, he said, would give it greater weight.
Other concerns raised by residents was the visual impact of the development, the on-site battery storage, loss of agricultural land, and that many people did not know the scale of the 50 megawatt scheme.
District councillor John Smith said Sunnica kept ‘fobbing him off’ when he raised questions about decommissioning the facility in 40 years time.
And Lance Stanbury, a former district councillor, said the scheme did not follow the Government’s own solar policy which required it to be appropriately sited, that it considered local heritage and amenity, and
provide communities he chance to influence the plans.
“The consultation process has demonstrated that none of that has been appropriately addressed by Sunnica,” he said.
“It should be rejected because it contravenes the Government’s own UK solar strategy.”