Mixed reaction to solar panel farm in Berwick

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More than 50 people turned out to discuss proposals for a solar panel farm in Berwick at a public meeting held on Tuesday evening (August 20).

Residents gathered at Berwick Hall to discuss plans for a 28 hectare solar farm at Batbrooks Farm. The plans are to install solar panels on the land for the next 27 years. It is thought the site will produce power for up to 3,700 homes.

Joe Eagle, from Preserve our Parish Pastures Group, which sponsored the public meeting in Berwick and another held in Selmeston on Wednesday, said he opposed the solar farm. He said the group supported reneweable energy but not at the expense of the countryside.

But Ollie Pendered from Communities Matter and Community Energy South, who does some work with Susenco, the company responsible for the project, said he supported the application and felt Susenco had listened to the community and made significant changes to the application. He also said there would be community ownership of 25 per cent of the project.

Commenting on the application, Mr Eagle said: “It’s highly visible from the National Park at Bo Peep and from the Long Man at Willmington, as well as local roads and from near neighbours. While our group supports renewable energy if done sympathetically and in keeping with the government’s intentions, such brutal changes to our lovely pastureland and alteration to the countryside which so many of us love and share is not the answer.

“It is hard to express, I drive pass it every day and do I want to see the solar panels in the countryside? No. Do the people walking in the countryside want to see it? No. Do the people visiting Arlington Reservoir want to see it? No. I think this is the wrong place for it.”

The panels will stand less than three metres high, have no moving parts, emit no sound, and are benign.

A planning application for the site has now been submitted to Wealden District Council. Energy bosses said the scheme would save around 214,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions over its lifetime.

Mr Pendered said the panels will allow the farmer to continue farming the land and solar panel farms are a boost to local biodiversity as meadow grass can be planted and will encourage insects and wildlife. He also said the local National Grid electricity network will only have the capacity for two projects such as the Berwick Susenco project.

He said: “The meetings have been balanced and very well run. People have started to ask questions and Susenco are going to write to residents with the answers and ensure people are as well informed as possible. I think it is important for people to know these are not going everywhere, they are going to be in areas where there is capacity. I urge people to go to Susenco to ask them their questions.”

Farmers Sally and Richard Carr said: “As a family we feel strongly the proposed solar farm is our opportunity to help the environment whilst still grazing the pasture and encouraging biodiversity. As local farmers and neighbours, we are keen to work with the local community to ensure they receive some of the benefits whilst minimising as much as possible the visual impact for close neighbours.”