Ray of sunshine for firm as first solar farm approved in Berwick

Planning permission for the first major solar panel farm in Wealden has been granted by the District Council.

A 20-hectare solar panel farm will now go ahead at land in Wick Street in Berwick which could power up to 2,300 homes after councillors agreed developer Susenco’s plans at a planning meeting held on Thursday (October 17).

Richard Carr, who owns Batbrooks Farm, near the solar site, said: “We are very happy that Wealden District Council have endorsed Susenco’s plans for a Solar Farm by passing the application in emphatic fashion. It will be good to see low grade land such as this become more productive electrically, educationally and ecologically. Residents have been consulted and we have listened carefully to their views, which we believe has produced a well screened scheme with lots of added benefits for the local community. We look forward to working hard with the developers, the community company and local residents to ensure that we produce a solar farm that we can be proud of.”

But the plans were met with a mixed reaction from residents.

Joe Eagle, from Preserve our Parish Pastures Group, said he was disappointed with the council’s decision.

He said: “Despite two thirds of local people who wrote in re the scheme objecting, the council still approved, making a nonsense of the government’s wish that local interests be given a stronger voice in planning. As the first major scheme in the Weald it was always likely that the council would do the politically correct thing to show their support for renewable energy.

“Now we must await the flood of schemes that are currently in the wings to arrive on the planner’s desk and see how those are treated. One hopes that having sacrificed the green fields of Berwick/Selmeston to developers, common sense will now prevail and further developments be only approved if they are the wish of the local people.

“Wealden must now formulate a coherent renewable energy policy so that future proposals are measured against local criteria, not ever changing government guidelines.”

A spokesman for Wealden District Council said the National Planning Policy Framework calls on local planning authorities to approve applications for renewable energy development where ‘its impacts are (or can be made) acceptable.’ Planning Committee South decided this was the case.

“As well as the environmental benefits for the community as a whole through reduced greenhouse gas emissions, this scheme also provides shares for the local community in the solar farm. A further benefit will be the educational facilities on site for schools. The South Downs National Park did not object to the application. Each application made to the planning authority is considered on its own merits,” the council added.

As part of the plans Susenco offered the residents the opportunity to set up a community-owned company to take ownership of a section of the farm and to manage and raise money for it. Community shareholders would get a return on their investment and the rest of the money generated would be spent on community projects.

Dr Alister Scott set up community company Wick Street Community Solar Farm Company run by local people and with community energy company OVESCO’s help, set about raising around £3m for the site. It is the first scheme in the UK where a developer has offered shares to local people.

Dr Scott said: “We will work hard with the developers to ensure community concerns are addressed, especially the impact on visual amenity. Over time, I hope we can lay people’s fears to rest and, more importantly, show them the real benefits for our community.”

A spokesman for Susenco said: “If there are impacts in a local area, there should also be benefits. Solar projects like at Wick Street in Berwick will be a significant contribution to reducing carbon in the southeast.”