Langford Solar Farm – Mid Devon District Council withdraws from public inquiry – April 2022

Devon CPRE has discovered that Mid Devon District Council has made a secretive u-turn on its plans to take part in a public inquiry, at which it was to have defended its decision to refuse a massive solar farm and battery storage facility at Langford, near Cullompton. Devon CPRE and local objectors have been granted Rule 6 status to appear at the forthcoming inquiry to give expert evidence in support of Mid Devon’s reasons for refusing Langford solar farm.

Now we have been informed that the Council has backed down from taking part in the inquiry. The surprise decision – made behind closed doors by a newly-configured planning committee – is the latest twist in a saga that’s been going on for two and a half years. That’s when an application was first lodged for a solar farm covering sixteen fields, over a mile long and surrounded by over 4 miles of security fencing and CCTV cameras.

Our energy spokesman, Dr Phillip Bratby says, “Having previously refused the scheme, and with good reason, why is the council now apparently in favour of this massive solar farm and battery storage facility which will blight the countryside for 40 years? Is it all about money or is there something else going on? It smacks of something rotten. The residents of Mid Devon, who fund the council, deserve to know what is going on with their money and why undemocratic decisions are being made against their will behind closed doors.”

The applicant’s competence was called into question from the very outset when he was informed that building a solar farm in a functional floodplain was not a good idea as it could lead to flooding in nearby Cullompton. He had to redesign the scheme, which contains about 110,000 solar panels and 13 industrial containers of highly hazardous Li-ion batteries.

Phillip adds “Why did the applicant even consider building a massive solar farm in a totally unsuitable place? Mid Devon had shown the landscape had high sensitivity to solar farms one sixth the size of the one that was proposed. Is it all about the applicant making money, regardless of the impact on Devon’s landscape, environment and residents?”

In the two years following the redesign, three planning officers examined the scheme, and all three, together with the planning manager, subsequently left Mid Devon Council’s employment. None of them appear to have understood the scheme or bothered to find out the details of the proposed battery storage, even after objectors specifically requested such details. All three officers produced reports recommending that the application should be approved. One of these reports appeared to try to play down opposition to the proposed solar farm by reducing the true number of objectors by over 100! This ‘error’ had to be corrected.

At the first planning meeting to determine the application, the committee members deferred a decision until they had made a site visit. In fact, the site visit never took place. At the second meeting, the committee voted to refuse the application, subject to an implications report. It was then pointed out that the minutes of the meeting were incorrect, as somebody had inserted two words which completely changed the meaning of one of the reasons for refusal. Following questions from the public, the council twice stated that an investigation would be held and the public would be informed of the result. However, the investigation never happened and so the public has never found out why the minutes were altered or by whom.

At the third committee meeting, at which the implications report produced by the third planning officer was discussed, the members again voted to refuse the application. Subsequently, the planning officer and planning manager left the employment of Mid Devon District Council.

As expected, nearly six months later the applicant has lodged an appeal and the Planning Inspectorate have decided to hold a public inquiry at which Devon CPRE and other objectors are to give evidence.

Dr Phil Bratby concludes, “The appeal was discussed at a planning meeting on 30th March. However, by then, membership of the planning committee had been changed, effectively excluding some of the councillors who had voted to refuse the solar farm. Following initial questions from the public, the rest of that meeting was held in secret and the revamped planning committee decided not to defend the decision to refuse the application. So much for democracy!”

Devon CPRE and the local residents are now waiting to hear from the Planning Inspectorate about what will happen with the public inquiry.