Firm defends its solar panels plan for farm


The company behind plans to install 20,000 solar panels on a farm in Chailey has defended its proposal after criticism from local residents.

A number of people, including the former landowner’s widow Rosemary Usborne, spoke out in protest of plans to cover 24 acres of open land at Tomkins Farm with solar panels, claiming the land was ‘high grade’ and perfect for farming.

Emma Siddons, of solar farm developer Hadstone Energy, said: “We are not in the business of putting solar farms on high grade land; Hadstone Energy and Southern Solar are responsible solar farm developers which follow the Agricultural Good Practice Guidance for Solar Farms. Current landowner Mr O’Conor will continue doing what he does now, which is to graze sheep under the panels, selling lamb to market. It is not clear to me why the campaigners do not class this as food production.”

The National Farmers Union has supported this move, agreeing that farmers can continue to graze sheep at normal stocking density even with the introduction of a solar array. It states that ‘once the solar farm is in place, 95 per cent of a field is still accessible to vegetation growth and agricultural use’.

The land’s current owner, Philip O’Conor, said: “The land probably was and is capable of producing up to three tons of cereal per acre, which agrees with its official classification as low grade 3B.

“Unfortunately, anyone in farming now will know that this yield no longer makes for a viable business for a small arable farmer. If I were to grow crops on my 90 acres of land, I would make a loss of around £30 per acre. I am choosing to continue to graze sheep on the solar site, which the campaigners have sadly dismissed as ‘nonsense’.

“The hypocrisy of the campaigners’ argument is that between them they own at least 225 acres of land, much of which adjoins Tomkins Farm, yet not a single one of them farms it – they leave it untouched or topped once a year.

“They are out of touch with farming today because they choose to make their money in other ways. Those who are part of the current farming community know what pressure small farms face, which is why the National Farmers Union supports solar farms.”

Southern Solar approached Mr O’Conor in 2013 about building a solar farm on his land as the site, adjacent to the Lewes-Newick electrical distribution, would yield sufficient energy for the entire electrical consumption of 1,400 local homes.

The Lewes firm also claimed the land is low grade and low visibility.

So far, 150 comments have been made to Lewes District Council on this solar farm proposal - 97 are objections from local people, while 50 are from residents in London or from as far afield as Australia.

To comment on the proposal, speak to a local councillor or contact Lewes District Council with the reference LW/15/0292.