Planners to visit solar farm site

10:00 20 May 2014

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An application for a 30-acre solar farm outside Sidbury is hanging in the balance after district council planners agreed to visit the site before making a final decision.

The application by energy firm Lumicity Ltd would see 28,800 panels installed at land on East Hill Strips.

Planning officers had recommended the application be refused because of the impact the site would have on land designated as an area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB).

Lumicity are proposing to screen the site by planting extra hedgerows, and several members of East Devon District Council’s planning committee felt this would be sufficient to conceal the panels when they considered the application last week. Councillor Chris Wale, district representative for Sidmouth Rural, urged the committee to look at the proposal with ‘a very open mind’.

He added: “We have had a lot of support for this and [Lumicity] are working hard to achieve minimum impact.”

Cllr Martin Gammell, who said he had consistently voted against applications for solar farms in the ANOB, felt there was merit in the East Hill application.

“This is an excellent use of poor quality land,” he said. “If you can’t see it, then it is not there.”

But some members disagreed, insisting that the site would still be visible despite the screening attempts.

Cllr David Key said: “I have looked across that valley, and I can see that field plain as plain. There’s no way I can go with approval.”

Cllr Geoff Pook shared a similar view, saying the hedges were essentially just ‘applying makeup’ to what he described as an ‘industrialisation’ of the AONB.

Cllr Howe likened the plans to ‘putting lipstick on a pig’.

“You are trying to artificially screen something that shouldn’t be there,” he added.

A proposal on whether to carry out a inspection was tied, so the final say rested with chair Cllr Helen Parr who voted in favour visiting the site.

If built, the solar farm would provide enough energy to power some 1,680 homes and save around 31,000 tonnes of CO2 each year.

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