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Reference: 14/01576/MAJ Address: Sawmills, Ashcombe Estate, Ashcombe, Devon, EX7 0QD Parish: Ashcombe Ward: Kenton With Starcross Proposal: Installation of ground mounted solar array (area of solar pv array 176,200 m2), estimated output of 7.5 MW, and associated infrastructure comprising transformers, equipment housing, security fencing, ancillary equipment and access tracks, provision of landscape and ecology buffers, corridors, native wild grass and new infill boundary landscaping Type of Application: Major Application Decision: Decision Level: Delegated Decision Case Officer: Jeremy Ebdon Date Application Received: 23/05/2014 The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) recognises that solar energy has an important role to play in meeting future energy needs. It helps increase energy security and diversity, while making a significant contribution to meeting the UK’s targets of producing 15% of our energy consumption from renewable sources by 2020 and an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Climate change is one of the most urgent and complex environmental issues we face.CPRE believes that the most suitable and, as yet, largely untapped location for solar technologies is on industrial and other buildings with major roof surfaces. We recognise that there has been rapid growth in ground-mounted solar farms. These can bring benefits, but we wish to ensure that they are located where they do not harm the natural beauty and productivity of the countryside and in ways that provide local benefits.
The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) emphasises the need to increase the use and supply of renewable and low carbon energy, and states that Local Planning Authorities should maximise development of this energy while ensuring adverse impacts are addressed satisfactorily. The Planning Practice Guidance (PPG) on “Renewable and low carbon energy” highlights that the need for renewable energy does not automatically override local environmental protections and the planning concerns of local communities. The Government’s UK Solar PV Strategy Part 1 recognises that up to 20GW of solar PV is potentially achievable by 2020, but cautions that this ambition must be matched by much greater sensitivity to local environmental impacts.
Para. 27 of the PPG on “Renewable and low carbon energy” encourages the use of “previously developed land”. We believe that Teignbridge District Council should demonstrate that all options for locating solar panels on brownfield sites, existing roof surfaces and on new buildings have been properly considered. These locations should be given preference to introducing major solar arrays into greenfield sites where there will be a major adverse impact on the landscape and a loss of productive arable land. This approach would be consistent with national policy guidance. This application should be refused until all the potential alternative locations have been assessed.
The proposed site for the solar array is on high ground in an undulating landscape. This is situated within an Area of Great Landscape Value (AGLV). This elevated position slopes steeply into the valley. It is an area of great scenic value and would be very adversely affected by the introduction of 71 acres of solar panels glinting across the landscape. The photomontages and photographs underestimate the visibility of the panels from a number of viewpoints. In particular, the southern end of the development would be highly visible from the B3192 as you approach Teignmouth. This would spoil the rural character of the area and create an industrial landscape, which would detract from the woodland and heathland character of this area. This southern end would also be visible from Ideford Common, which is open access. There are several viewpoints from where most of the development would be visible, including from Oakpark Lane public footpath and the public rights of way at Langdon Barton, Westley Farm and Pitt Wood. There will be increased visibility in the winter months when the deciduous trees in the woods, including ZigZag Wood, have lost their leaves. The PPG on “Renewable and low carbon energy” states that the effect of glint and glare on the landscape should be a material consideration. It is not clear that the increased effect in winter has been taken into account in this application.
CPRE believes that there would be a very significant adverse impact on the AGLV and that the Council should refuse this application as it is contrary to Policy EN2A in the adopted Local Plan, which says
“To protect and enhance the area’s landscape, development will be sympathetic to and help to conserve and enhance the natural and cultural landscape character of Teignbridge, in particular in Areas of Great Landscape Value …”
The proposed site for this solar array lies between 2 Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) – Great Haldon and Little Haldon. These provide important habitats for nightjars. We are concerned that there has been no assessment of the use of this site by nightjars and that there could be an adverse impact on their habitat. Also, there is evidence that the north-west corner of this site is used by Greater Horseshoe bats. CPRE believes that there should be a Habitat Regulation assessment of the impact on these bats by the introduction of this solar array with its associated buildings and infrastructure. There should be an assessment of the potential impact on nightjars and Greater Horseshoe bats during the construction phase and decommissioning phases. Planning permission should be refused in the absence of these assessments in line with Policy EN10 in the adopted Local Plan.
Castle Dyke hill fort is close to this development. It is a scheduled ancient monument
which is described by English Heritage as “of national importance”. We are very concerned about the impact of this proposed solar array on the setting of this heritage asset. This will be more evident in the 6 winter months when it is very likely that the solar panels will be visible from the outer enclosure glinting through the bare trees. They will also distract from viewpoints across to the Tower Plantation in which it is situated. This fort is on one of the highest points in the area. The area around it needs to be protected so that current and future generations can appreciate its significance in the landscape. Policy EN5 of the adopted Local Plan aims to protect and enhance local heritage assets and their setting. This application should be refused as it will have an adverse impact on the setting of Castle Dyke.
Loss of Productive Arable Land
CPRE believes that high-quality agricultural land (Grades 1, 2 and 3a), specifically protected in the NPPF, should not be used for solar farms. This reflects the growing importance of food security. There may also be a case for protecting Grade 3b or other land that makes an important contribution to the local land-based economy, particularly in areas dominated by low grade agricultural land. The proposed development site is a mix of Grade 3a and 3b agricultural land. It is valuable arable land which has produced wheat this year. Agricultural land is being lost to intensive housing developments in Teignbridge. It is unnecessary and inappropriate to lose more high quality agricultural land for a solar array, when alternative brownfield sites could be available and have not been considered.
Industrialisation of the Landscape
The introduction of 71 acres of solar panels with the associated infrastructure of inverters, substation, roadways and cables will create an industrial landscape which will be out of character with the beautiful undulating woods, hills and heathland of this area between Little and Great Haldon. The noise will also introduce a persistent disturbance to the tranquillity of the valley. This is highly inappropriate in an AGLV and should be refused.
In conclusion, CPRE would urge Members to refuse this planning application as it is contrary to national and local policy. Preference should be given to locating solar arrays on brownfield sites and roofs rather than in an AGLV. The moderate and intermittent benefits from the renewable energy would be considerably outweighed by the very significant adverse impacts on the landscape, ecology, heritage and agricultural production. It is contrary to Policies EN2A, EN5 and EN10 of the adopted Local Plan.
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