A solar farm at Flanchford Road? Views for and against

The proposal for a 60-acre solar farm at Flanchford Road has provoked a range of views within the local community and the local Green Party.

Cllr Jonathan Essex, Chair of the Reigate & Banstead Green Party branch, interviewed on BBC Surrey, spoke of the need for more renewable energy and for planning policies to determine where renewable energy installations such as solar farms should go. The following quotes are excerpted from the interview, and slightly edited for brevity.

Jonathan said, “Whilst Greens are very keen on rapidly expanding renewable energy in the UK, we still need to make sure we plan to do the right things in the right place. This proposal is on land that can be used for arable farming, is in the Green Belt, and is in an Area of Great Landscape Value – it’s not the ideal place to put something of this scale.”

Put panels on buildings first

“Locally, we have got an industrial estate in Redhill which doesn’t have solar panels on any of the large warehouses. Why not? And what about the flat roofs of the publicly-owned Harlequin cinema building in the centre of Redhill?”

“It would make more sense to put solar panels on buildings first and farm land second. The Government incentives don’t currently work like that.

“For solar power the Government just has one central policy called a feed-in tariff. It is basically saying, ‘let the market decide where the most cost-effective place to put solar power is’.

“I don’t think the right approach for solar power is simply to wait for the planning applications to come in and judge if each one is right or wrong.

We need a plan

“We need a clear strategy of how we are sustainable in our rural areas. We need to increase renewable energy generation but we also need to increase local food production in the UK. So rather then having a trade-off between these two aims, we need to have a plan to make sure we do both better.

“In the case of housing, we decide where the housing need is, we make a plan, then we allow proposed developments that meet that need. We also need to be considering where the power is for our future.”

Alternative view: “On balance, this is a good location”

Derek Smith, Secretary of the local Green Party branch, supports the application. In a letter to the Surrey Mirror, he pointed out the benefits. Again, we have excerpted some key points from his letter.

Derek wrote, “The big argument for a solar farm is to tackle climate change. If we are serious about tackling climate change we desperately need more renewable energy and a solar farm does just this.

“Other arguments in favour are that a well-run solar farm can improve biodiversity (it creates a thriving eco-system under the panels) and increase the viability of UK agriculture by giving the farmer a nice reliable income stream.”

Derek feels that on balance, this is a good location. He wrote:

“The Flanchford Farm land is grade 3b [Agricultural Land Classification] or ‘Moderate’ category. The land is designated as having ‘Great Landscape Value’ but I understand that this is mainly to be a buffer to the nearby Reigate Heath.

“The effect on the landscape to the majority who drive through is nil as hedges block the view from the roads. Many objectors claim it will spoil the view for miles around but a viewpoint map in the planning statement shows it affects only a local area… The significant impact will be on footpath users and the nearby residents – a relatively small number. Is the hurt to them worth the wider benefits? There’s no obvious answer but on balance I’m for the solar farm.”

Read more and have your say

What do you think? Read the planning application documents and have your say on the Council website: http://planning.reigate-banstead.gov.uk/online-applications/

(The Council’s planning site is not working at present! We will add a full link when it’s fixed.)

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One Comment

  1. Posted August 26, 2014 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

    FYI. Solar panels give sheep shade and earn the farmer money

    Wednesday, June 19, 2013

    Western Morning News
    Deep in Thomas Hardy country a flock of traditionally-bred sheep graze contentedly, as they have for centuries, despite sharing their pasture with a 20,000-panel solar farm.
    Critics often say large, ground-mounted solar power schemes on agricultural land such as this in West Dorset are incompatible with traditional farming.
    Farmer Clive Sage of Wyld Meadow Farm with his sheep, and the now fully operational 20,000-panel solar farm on his land in West Dorset Picture: Richard Austin

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