Solar farm plan rejected by Government minister

Controversial plans to build a solar farm near Steyning have been rejected by the Secretary of State.

Artist's impression
Artist's impression

Communities and Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles ruled that the 79 acre development, at Huddlestone Farm, Horsham Road, Steyning, should not go ahead.

Huddlestone Farm Solar Park Ltd had applied for planning permission to build 2.3m high photovoltaic arrays, converters, a district network operator connection point, building and cabling on the site.

The solar farm was expected to operate for 30 years before being decommissioned.

The planning application was rejected by Horsham District Council in April 2014.

Councillors voted to follow planning officers’ recommendation to refuse permission.

The officers’ report to the committee said: “The Council’s Landscape Architect objects to the proposal as it is considered that the application would lead to unacceptable adverse visual amenity and landscape impacts.

“In his opinion there would be significant major and moderate visual amenity effects on the public rights of way in the vicinity of the site, including close views from the public footpath that follows the western boundary and part of the northern boundary of the site, from the bridleway immediately to the north of the site and from certain locations along the Downs Link which is a right of way of strategic importance.”

The report also mentioned concerns about the effect the solar farm would have on the view from nearby homes, and two other sections of bridleway.

It added that the development would cause a significant change not only to the character of the site but also to the surrounding area.

“Furthermore, it is considered the setting of the South Downs National Park would be significantly adversely affected to a moderate-major adverse degree in terms of intrusion of solar panels on characteristic views looking towards the escarpment of the South Downs – views of a magnificent sweep of the South Downs from Tottington Mount to Chantonbury Ring,” it said.

“With regard to the proposed mitigation measures of new hedgerow and hedgerow tree planting, it is not considered that this would be sufficient to address the adverse impacts of views of the solar farm when viewed from higher surrounding land and on the north western boundary.

“The identified harm would last for at least 15 years while the planting is being established which is a very long time in the context of any potential temporary 30 year planning permission.”

While the application was being considered, Arundel and South Downs MP Nick Herbert spoke out publicly against building large scale solar farms on green fields.

“I am all in favour of solar panels in the right places, for instance on buildings as I saw recently at Downlands School,” he said, “but we should not allow the careless industrialisation of the West Sussex countryside with acres of ugly solar farms.”

In March last year, Eric Pickles issued new guidance, pointing out the need to protect the landscape and re-stating that solar farms should not be built on high quality agricultural land.

On other occasions, the Government had emphasised the importance of focusing solar energy growth on domestic and commercial roof space and on previously developed land. Mr Pickles said: “Meeting our energy goals should not be used to justify the wrong development in the wrong location and this includes the unnecessary use of high quality agricultural land. Protecting the global environment is not an excuse to trash the local environment.”

The district council’s decision was upheld by planning inspector David Rose, but the decision was ‘recovered’ by Mr Pickles, giving him the final say.

Last week, Mr Pickles announced that he agreed with Mr Rose, and was refusing the appeal.

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