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Hundreds voice their anger over Sunnica's plans to build huge new solar farm on the outskirts of Newmarket

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Hundreds of people turned out to voice their anger over plans to construct a sprawling 2,500-acre solar farm on their doorstep.

More than 250 residents from Isleham and its surrounding villages attended a meeting at The Beeches community centre on Friday and left attending MPs Lucy Frazer and Matt Hancock in no doubt about their concerns over the plans.

Before the meeting began, those attending observed a minute’s silence in memory of MP Sir David Amess, who had been murdered just hours before, and several police officers attended at late notice to safeguard the two MPs present.

The meeting was attended by Lucy Frazer and Matt Hancock.
The meeting was attended by Lucy Frazer and Matt Hancock.

The project, which is being put forward by solar farm company Sunnica, will cover an area of more than 2,500 acres, with an application expected to be presented next month.

The farm would be a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project and, as a result, the application will not go through traditional planning application routes.

Speaking at the meeting, Lucy Frazer said: “We have done what we can to liaise and Matt and I invited Sunnica along to this meeting today, but they refused. Significant infrastructure such as this will be decided upon by the planning inspector and Secretary of State, but Matt and I have opposed the project, and particularly its size.”

Nearby villages have joined forces to oppose the project.
Nearby villages have joined forces to oppose the project.

Matt Hancock said: “Lucy and I have been working very closely on this proposal and despite my view being that we need renewable energy, from the moment I saw the map, I was not in favour of this project.

“My immediate concerns are the overall impact on the environment and local area, the size of this material change and the batteries, which can be problematic in terms of safety when used on this scale.”

He added: “The fact that Sunnica have put a project of this size forward and then not turned up to this meeting is arrogant.”

Among the concerns raised by those in attendance was loss of quality agricultural land, the scale of the development, and its impact on Isleham, the capability of local roads to deal with trucks passing through each day for two years during construction, the effect on wildlife and the potential hazard of a large lithium battery catching fire.

Residents were informed that a fire at a battery storage system in Liverpool in September last year had taken more than 10 hours to bring under control and the Sunnica project’s battery energy storage system would be one of the largest in the world at 315 battery containers, if approved.

Leaflets pinned on the centre’s noticeboard said that noxious fumes released by a battery fire could theoretically pose a health risk to people living in Soham, Newmarket, and the outskirts of Bury St Edmunds.

Isleham parish councillor Richard Radcliffe, said: “It was useful to have Lucy and Matt in attendance and I would encourage everyone to make their views known once the application is submitted. It was disappointing that Sunnica couldn’t hear those views face to face.”

In a statement after the meeting, action group chairman Dr Catherine Judkins said: “We were very pleased to be in conversation with our local MPs, who showed a real understanding of their constituents’ views about the Sunnica proposal.

“They gave us strong support that this industrial-scale battery and solar plant, which takes up valuable arable farmland, is inappropriate,”

“A major concern is that the statutory community consultation, a pillar of the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP) process, has been inadequate and unacceptably driven through during periods of national lockdown.

“It is really important that residents understand the specific issues and take part in the public inquiry process – the next most likely stage. Community volunteers are working hard, alongside 16 parish and town councils, to keep residents informed and share knowledge.

“We know we may have a fight on our hands to keep our local agriculture, wildlife and landscape, and deter these unsafe mega battery storage systems from being built so close to homes and schools.”

The action group is raising funds for legal and technical support at www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/saynotosunnica

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