Recently I learned of a new 60 acre solar development planned for the outskirts of the village I live in. It came as a bit of a shock since there was little (if any!) consultation with the community towards whom the development will have a great effect. Now, on the whole I am a strong supporter of renewables and have a firm realisation of the future energy crisis we face. However, like with any planning consent development should only take place in the right places and for the right reasons. I am not going to comment further on the particular case local to me other than two brief points:
i) Applications such as these flag up a wider problem of a lack of communication between applicants and their communities.
ii) Applications should be put in for the best possible site for the development and in this particular case I do not believe it to be the correct placing (bordering an SSSI, on a hillside etc etc) .
The second point runs into the debate more widely. Why is it that ‘aesthetic value’ is not written into planning regulations when it appears that aesthetics govern the majority of people’s concerns when it comes to development. Comments upon the ‘destruction’ of views or landscape value potential are pushed down and laughed upon by developers and those who read the regulations, using the argument that we are ‘progressing’ – a word I very much dislike. Change is change and necessary. However, it is not progress until it has been tested through experience and history.
In the two years since the first large scale solar park began generating electricity in Lincolnshire nearly 160 have been constructed with a further 229 under construction or awaiting approval (http://news.sky.com/story/1132515/countryside-fears-over-solar-energy-growth) . I can certainly see many benefits. From the landowner’s perspective the land is being made to pay and often can still be used for other purposes such as sheep grazing. From the country’s perspective it is clean, renewable energy. Almost entirely effective screening takes place which is impossible for example in the case of wind power. However, this does not remove the debate about aesthetic value. A field of photovoltaics is and always will be a field of photovoltaics, a vision of industry. However, although it may not seem it to many, the vast majority of our agricultural fields are already fields of industry, pushing soils to their limits and churning out crops and animals for our benefit on an industrial scale, but that is another story!
When it comes to solar power I see that an increasing number of solar developments is going to be a part of our future in rural and semi-urban areas alike. The Government has made it clear it backs the production of solar energy, which it hopes will eventually produce 20GW of energy every year – eight times more than at present and enough to power around six million homes. We can however put plans in place to fix the planning system to make each development have as little impact on the surrounding landscape and community as is possible. Some developments should be turned down in favour of others. With a fear of being seen as ‘anti renewable’ however the majority of applications are surely likely to be accepted as being ‘progressive’.