My campaign for fairness on solar farms
- Opposing the industrialisation of our countryside.
- Local people should get the final say over large solar developments but if they do go ahead, those who suffer as a result should benefit from lower bills.
People are right to feel angry about the impact of industrial-scale solar farms upon our beautiful South Devon landscapes. Solar power rightly plays a role in our energy mix, however I believe that small-scale developments on roofs are more appropriate than vast acres of closely packed solar arrays.
Objections to these developments cannot simply be dismissed as NIMBYism – local businesses and jobs rely on tourism and there are very real concerns about the impact on agricultural land use and future conversion to brown field sites.
While I am unable to influence individual local planning decisions, I have met with Ministers in Westminster to explain the strength of feeling on this issue in South Devon and to press for reform of the distorting subsidies which incentivise these developments. I have hosted a delegation from South Hams District Council to Westminster to set out how councils must be better supported in blocking unwanted solar developments.
I do think most people are in favour of reducing our reliance upon overseas oil and gas as well as increasing our energy from renewables. All emerging technologies need support to get going but that doesn't mean the taxpayer should continue to foot the bill once they can stand on their own feet and neither should it mean subsidising the proliferation of on shore wind or solar farms against the will of local communities or in wholly inappropriate places. In effect the subsidies can act as a transfer of money from the fuel poor to small numbers of wealthy individuals, when there is greater support if communities have a greater share in any benefit.
Decision making by local representatives
It is right that planning decisions should be made by local councils, who know the area and understand how new developments will impact it. However, local authorities too often have experience of their planning decisions being appealed by solar developers and then overturned.
These appeals often come at great expense to local taxpayers. At a time when local authority budgets are stretched, councils are understandably under great pressure to accept inappropriate planning applications in order to avoid the great expense of going to appeal and facing further legal fees and penalties.
Applicants have an automatic right to appeal directly to the planning inspector meaning that, on top of the expense, planning decisions are then made by unelected officials with little knowledge of the area. I have spoken to Ministers on this issue and continue to campaign for local people to have the final say over solar developments in their area without having to face an excessive bill.