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Impact of large solar farms to be examined by Stratford council

By Andy Mitchell

Local Democracy Reporter

DOES the Stratford district have too many solar farms and are they having an impact on the environment and food production?

Those are the issues Stratford District Council has to wrestle with as it considers a call to limit the volume of solar farms in the area.

A motion was put forward in April amid concerns that large-scale solar farms in the countryside could impact on the natural environment and food production.

It called on the council to “urgently progress work on policies relating to solar energy generation”, including balancing the benefits with the loss of agricultural land and landscape and considering cumulative impacts as well as “encouraging the deployment of rooftop solar and exploring approaches for heritage assets”.

Solar farm, panels Photo: iStock
Solar farm, panels Photo: iStock

The next step was for the cabinet – the new Liberal Democrat administration that took charge in May, after this came forward – to either back the motion, ask council professionals to produce a report on its merits and pitfalls or to send it to a panel of councillors for further scrutiny.

Stephen Norrie, chair of Stratford Climate Action, and Cllr Dave Passingham (Green, Shipston South) argued that the impact on food production and farming was negligible compared with the benefits of secure, renewable energy, claiming it would only take a fraction of the land currently dedicated to farming livestock to meet the nation’s solar energy needs.

Mr Norrie said the matters covered in the motion were already “amply considered in decision making” when solar farms go through the planning process.

“My own view is that the impression these farms will drastically damage the experience of the countryside is inflated,” he added. “Where farms have been approved, I think this is not because the countryside has lacked protection or has not been taken seriously, it is because councillors have recognised the impact on the countryside and the lives of local people will be too small to override the benefits of the proposals. Additional protections seem unnecessary.”

Cllr Passingham declared that he is a voluntary director of and investor in Heart of England Community Energy, a not-for-profit organisation behind a 60-acre solar farm by Alcester Road on the outskirts of Stratford.

Council leader Cllr Susan Juned (Lib Dem, Alcester East) also declared that she is a director and, as chair of the meeting, did not take part in the debate.

Cllr Passingham said it produces enough electricity for 4,500 homes while still preserving and managing trees and hedges for the benefit of wildlife and that there was “no need for additional regulations”.

“The threat of climate catastrophe is a constant worry,” he said. “We live in an emergency and therefore, we need to decarbonise our energy way more quickly than we are now.

“Solar roofing on car parks, yes, but we need far more than that. Just 0.1 per cent of UK land area is taken up by solar farms at the moment and this would increase to just 0.3 per cent if we produce all the solar farms we need.”

Cllr George Cowcher (Lib Dem, Wellesbourne South), portfolio holder for planning and economic development, had already advocated getting council officers to produce a report, something that was backed by the rest of cabinet.

“Clearly, this is a very important matter which is having an impact on Stratford district,” he said. “Whilst many of us are very much in favour of sustainable energy, and solar farms are an important component of that, we are also mindful of landscape and the quality of agricultural land. We believe it to be very important to have a proper report before we make a final decision on this.”

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