More protest over Chailey solar panel farm plan

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The widow of a Chailey farmer who once owned Tomkins Farm has joined villagers protesting at a plan to cover the historic farmland with 20,000 solar panels.

Rosemary Usborne, 91, who still lives close to the proposed development in Chailey, is challenging a claim by Hadstone Energy that the land is ‘low grade’. Hadstone, which plans to cover 24 acres of open green fields with the solar panels, has argued that the land has little value for food production.

Mrs Usborne said:“We used to get three tons an acre when it was down to barley, oats or wheat. And for years we ran a successful milking herd on it.

“It is perfectly good land for farming. It’s not the highest grade, but Hadstone’s own soil testing shows it is as good as the best in this area, and these fields are the best part of it, because they sit on rising ground.

“My late husband, James, always said he was only a custodian of the land and that he had a duty to preserve it for everyone’s enjoyment, and to protect it for future generations.

“These London developers obviously don’t understand the countryside. They just dismiss it, and see it as a development site. I think James would be turning in his grave if he knew about this plan. So would all the people who used to work for him.”

When James and Rosemary retired and sold the farm in 1987, James wrote a book about it, showing how farming had changed over the years since they came to Newick, then Chailey, after the war. He also kept copies of all the articles in leading farm journals [Farmer and Stockbreeder, and Farmers Weekly ] that featured him and his Friesians as a model of successful farming.

“This photo,” said Mrs Usborne, pointing to James’s book, “is the exact field that Hadstone wants to cover with solar panels. You can see it’s an enormously thick crop of wheat just ready for harvest.

“James was the last owner to farm it properly. After we sold it, the land became set-aside for some years. Now it’s been divided into paddocks for alpaca, and recently some sheep. The idea that a worthwhile flock of sheep will spend years happily grazing between solar panels is nonsense, there is no long-term evidence for it.

“We ought to be planning for more home-grown food, not less. Britain’s population is growing fast and it would be dreadful to take this land out of agricultural production. I’m all in favour of green energy but not at the expense of green fields,” she added.

Hadstone says the solar development will be gone after 25 years.

It says the site has ‘low visibility’ from the road and housing, and is not an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Developers say the panels will not damage the land any more than farming, and small livestock could still graze after development.

The energy generated could power 1400 houses for 25 years which will be used locally, saving 80,000 tonnes of carbon emissions.

Hadstone will donate £20,000 to local charities if it gains planning permission.

Villagers fighting the plan have formed an action group ‘Stop Industrialising Tomkins Farm’ and are gathering signatures and objections to the plan, Lewes District Council application LW/ 15/0292.

Opponents of the site can join the campaign by emailing Mavie Van Den Hever at mvandenhever@yahoo.co.uk