To receive any questions relating to items on the Agenda from members of the public and replies thereto.
Note: A maximum of 30 minutes is allowed for this item.
Jan Jones spoke in relation to the proposed Solar Farm at Langford…… I am speaking on behalf of the residents of Langford and the surrounding areas who are unable to attend due to work commitments. I have two questions, my first is, can you tell me why this proposal is even being considered if in the Mid Devon Solar PV development in the landscape document it states that in this area i.e. the Lowlands Plane LCTVE, above 15 hectares, would be classified as a high sensitivity area and this proposal is 4 times that at 60.7 so therefore should be rejected? This question was not answered by the case officer in the planning balance section of his report.
My second question is, after 40 years of operation the soil will be severely degraded and recommissioning would have to be carried out with care to prevent damage to solar panels and leakage of toxic materials i.e. cadmium. How will this be done as the application says nothing about the decommissioning? I understand that after ten years of operation, the site could be reclassified as brown field. Is the Committee happy that this might mean the land is forever lost to agriculture and could become an industrial or housing estate?
Michael Jones spoke in relation to the same application…….At the previous meeting at which this application was discussed a question was asked as to why the reasons for rejection had been reduced to half a page of bullet points. The answer given was that the members of the committee could read all the objections. Surely it is the purpose of the officer's report to present all the facts. Can you state how many members of the committee have actually read all the objections?
Second question, it was stated in the previous minutes and the quote “there would be a financial investment in the local economy with employment opportunities”. Given the permanent loss of farm jobs and the supply chain, what are these opportunities? Contractors will use a transient workforce from outside the district and none of the investment will transfer to community jobs.
Third question, please can you clarify what provision has been made for the deer whose natural corridor runs directly from the solar farm along the River Weaver which has been observed by local residents for many years?
Richard Hughes speaking in relation to Deer Barn, Hockworthy stated……… If the investment is hugely disproportionate to the expected income making the proposal financially unviable will the application be refused? If it is not refused on these grounds, where in MDDCs Local Plan is there an indication that financially unviable businesses could be allowed?
If the Full Ecological Appraisal was based on incorrect information (regarding external lighting) and undertaken at a time when bats are hibernating (daylight hours in March) will the applicants be asked to commission a report based on correct facts and at an appropriate time of year for a fair report? Will the appraisal have provided false information on which the Wildlife Trigger Table was based?
With the site entrance being on a blind corner of a mainly single-track lane, and using a public footpath, there are concerns over highway and pedestrian safety - can a visit be made by Highways Agency in order to assess safety? (NPPF Para 109).
A static barn, used for the storage of camping facilities, was built on the site by the applicant last year without planning permission, however, it does not appear on the site plan and no retrospective mention of it seen in the application. Will this barn be addressed by the planning enforcement team at a later date?
The planning statement mentions glamping tents (in its title) but then goes on to mention pods and cabins, can we be assured that only TENTS are being considered as per title?
Are we correct in assuming that as permission is being sought PURELY FOR TWO GLAMPING TENTS all year round, any additional undisclosed structures, to include camping tents or ‘pup’ tents, will NOT be allowed?
IF the application was approved would the applicant be allowed to run ‘permitted development camping’ on the same site as the Glamping Tents?
Helen Hitt, also speaking in relation to the Solar Farm stated……I am asking questions on behalf of all landowners involved in this application.
Our families have been farming in Langford for more than 100 years. We are proud custodians of this landscape and passionate about protecting and nurturing the countryside for the next generation of farmers and we have a responsibility to constantly adapt and respond to the challenges presented to us. In farming we continually hear that diversification is the key to our survival. Our land is an asset, and therefore, my first question is do you recognise the need for us as farmers to use this land to integrate renewable energy production into our farming practices to maintain a business that is both environmentally and economically viable?
My second question to the committee, is have you undertaken a site visit? If so you will have seen for yourselves that the proposed solar development is in an area of countryside where visible impact is incredibly low due to, the topography of the land and the existing trees and hedges that surround the fields.
Are the committee aware of the government’s recent climate change policy? In it they state meat consumption should be reduced by 35% over the next 30 years. As a beef farmer I therefore will have to cut production by 35% and will need to find alternative land use.
I also ask the committee are you aware solar developments can only be built on land that is classified as grades 3, 4 and 5 which this project is? My land in particular is classified as grade 4 which I quote, is land which “suffers severe limitations that significantly restrict the range and/or yield of crops to be grown”. It is land that is most suited to growing grass and this development will allow for that to continue.
As landowners the last thing we want to do is cover our fields in concrete for housing or destroy the soil through increasingly intensive farming practices. The proposed solar development would result in a conversion of the land to a low input organic permanent pasture. The soil quality will improve due to less compaction, no artificial fertilisers and no chemicals would be applied and sheep will continue to graze on the land. Fauna and flora will flourish. We believe this proposal maximises the full potential of this land area in a way that traditional farming practices just don’t allow for.
Climate change is real, is here now and we have the ability to mitigate its impact.
The demand for electricity is real, is here now and is only going to increase.
Times and needs have changed and so too must our farming practices.
Are you the committee going to back this proposal which will go towards addressing these issues, support sustainable development and meet Mid Devon’s net zero carbon emissions commitment that you have signed up to for the benefit of our future?
Charlie Dowden also spoke in relation to the Solar Farm application at Langford…….As a recent graduate of Exeter University’s School of Geography and Sustainability, I - along with many of my peers - have legitimate concerns about the Devon that we will be left with in 50 years time. In May 2021, the Met Office (based down the road in Sowton) recorded that Devon experienced its wettest May on record, with an average of 192mm of rainfall, topping the record set in May 1869. In the spring of 2020 - Devon had its sunniest spring on record, beating the spring of 1948.
Whilst no single event can be linked to a changing climate; the likelihood of these wild fluctuations will only increase with time and demonstrate the increasing challenges the rural community face at a local level, when dealing with a problem of global scale.
The role of a landowner is not to maintain the status quo; it is to utilise the resources we have available to provide social, economic and environmental value for both current residents and for future generations. In supporting this application for renewable energy in Mid Devon; it demonstrates a commitment to the young people of Devon and the future of our county, at a time where we are still in a fortunate enough position to be able to make a positive impact.
The Langford Solar Farm represents a vital addition to the local community - supporting energy for 10,000 Mid Devon homes - at a time of considerable local growth, not least from the proposed Culm Garden village. The Solar Farm will benefit the local community through providing clean, safe and sustainable energy, with an annual CO2 emissions reduction of over 20,000 tonnes. This aligns with guidance from the National Planning Policy Framework that the planning system should “support renewable and low carbon energy and associated infrastructure”.
This application is an essential component of the local area’s long term growth plan; supporting the success of our area through the provision of sustainable development and presents a unique opportunity to stand up for the needs and concerns of future generations by addressing the climate emergency. We have to act when a large opportunity for positive local change comes about and given this, my question to Mid Devon County councillors is, how are you going to demonstrate your commitment to future generations of Devonians and to young people in rural Devon today who are worried about how the changing climate will impact our lives in years to come?
Roland Smith spoke in relation to the same
application…..I could not find any
information about the energy storage capacity of the battery
facility, say in kWh or MWh, said to have a power of 12MW. I trust
you are not recommending approval without knowing this important
basic parameter which will indicate how long the stored energy
could possibly support the grid. What is the energy storage of the
battery facility? Several conditions relate to the solar panels but
why aren’t there conditions controlling the battery storage
facility as part of this proposal?
Under “noise/impact/amenity” the officer states the equipment does not operate during the hours of darkness. As this is the time we most need electricity for heat and light, may I ask: what is the point of taking 150 acres of land (the average size of one Devon farm) out of food production?
How can a solar farm connected to the national grid specifically benefit an average of 10,077 homes in mid Devon when the contribution of 49.9MW to the grid would generate, on average, a trivial and insignificant 0.016% of average demand and absolutely zero after sunset when demand is at its highest?
Are the committee members aware of recent research by three eminent scientists, published last weekend in the national press, which shows the danger of catastrophic fire hazard of containerised batteries, possibly causing explosions on the scale of that which destroyed the port in Beirut?
In response to a written
parliamentary question about the hazards of mass deployment of
lithium-ion batteries for grid storage, the minister on 12th July
said "There are mechanisms in place at a local level to assess the
environmental impacts and benefits of lithium-ion battery storage
projects. Any applications for such projects will be
carefully assessed by relevant decision-makers against all relevant
criteria." Can you say where the environmental impacts (which
will include the hazards from fires and explosions and toxic gases)
have been carefully assessed by the officer and will they be
carefully assessed by the committee members?
In the event of a thermal
runaway as I’ve already described, it would fall on the local
fire service to deal with the incident. Is there an adequate water
supply available on site to deal with such an incident? Also, on
12th July a government minister said "In addition, for large scale
battery storage, there are statutory requirements to notify the
Fire and Rescue Service to inform their emergency response
planning." Can you tell me if Devon and
Somerset Fire and Rescue Services have been informed, and if so,
what was their response?
I know that this is not a planning issue, but are the members of the Committee aware of the huge amount of adverse publicity that Mid Devon District Council will receive if you approve this planning application with its London-based applicant profiting from human rights abuses in China?
Robert Deane also spoke in relation to the Solar Farm application…….Thank you for the opportunity to ask a question. If I may, I’ll give a little context before asking my question.
I’ve paid close interest to the application because we neighbour the site, living just 340m from it. After weighing up the issues, I submitted a comment in support of the application, raising points which I hope address some of the concerns of objectors - for instance the negligible effect of the solar farm on food production, the new habitats that will be created and the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from the land.
I take the view that solar farms like this are a necessary part of the country’s transition to net zero. The visual impact on the landscape is a matter of personal opinion and, for me, solar farms are a sign of the changes we should all be making if we want to reduce climate change and keep the lights on.
The site is not in an area of particularly high landscape quality and is largely hidden from public view. Converting the land on which the solar panels will sit from low grade arable and pasture to nature-friendly permanent pasture offers significant benefits such as enhanced biodiversity, reduced greenhouse gas emissions and carbon sequestration in the soil. These benefits would not be achieved from roof-top solar.
So my question – actually two related questions. I would like to ask the Planning Committee, if they decide this solar farm should not go ahead, where they think is suitable in Mid Devon? And related to this, what steps is the Council taking, through its planning policy, to support the switch to renewable energy generation?
Mandy Willis speaking in relation to the same application stated……can you tell us how many councillors have made any kind of site visit. We have offered access to our property available on many occasions since the March meeting and no member has made contact with us. A view from a road side drive by is not sufficient to understand our concerns as a resident directed affected by this application.
The developers have put in place flood prevention measures. Can you tell us what would happen if these were to fail? The fields that immediately backs onto our property, has been known during heavy rainfall to have a substantial amount of water pour off it into the stream that separates our boundaries coming into our garden and flooding it. I would like to refer Members to photographs take of our property submitted to the March meeting as a reminder.
Will the security fencing and security lighting and where will this be sighted? If so how ill this impact on the bat colonies that we know inhabit this areas? Will this also impact on the residents whose properties also border the proposed site for this lighting?
Are the Committee members aware how close the panels will be to our house? According to the plans submitted the panels will begin only 25m from our own boundary. Currently there are a few tress shielding the view of this but they are not evergreen and our view for a good part of the year will be a security if this tree line or hedgerow is removed by the developer and any infilling should be evergreen and of a height to prevent any view of security fencing, potential glare, road noise and CCTV to at the very least maintain our privacy, health and well being.
It was a constant disappointment that considering the obvious impact on our house and others in our road that the developer did not in any way reassure us as to any impact the development would clearly have. However, after an email we sent to the developer yesterday, contact has been made and a dialogue opened as to how some of our concerns can be mitigated but we were led to believe that the owner of this field would consider removing it and we would ask that this suggestion is perhaps put to the developer or even better put as a condition of any planning decision the committee should subsequently make.
Heather Wheeler, again speaking in relation to the Solar Farm stated……the Officer’s Report concludes that the scheme will make a valuable contribution to cutting greenhouse gas emissions, allowing Mid Devon to address the Climate Emergency.
The Applicant made a subordinate claim that the scheme could result in net biodiversity gain.
In its early response, the county’s premier ecology charity, the Devon Wildlife Trust, concluded its detailed comments by recommending the involvement of a Habitat Restoration Ecologist in the drawing up and subsequent management of an Ecology Enhancement and Management Plan to ‘give credibility’ to any proposals.
Its status as a Charity with strictly limited resources has precluded further contributions but the recommendation still stands. A Biodiversity Clerk of Works, as later proposed by the Applicant, is not required to have habitat restoration expertise and is not a substitute for a Habitat Restoration Ecologist.
Why has the Council ignored a recommendation by DWT, which could enable the scheme to double its benefit by tackling not only the Climate Emergency but also the equal emergency of Biodiversity loss?
Rupert Grantham spoke in relation to
the Buccaneers Bar planning
Policy DM23, of the recently adopted Local Plan, is opposed to the loss of a valued community facility such as this, unless the facility is proved to be no longer economically viable. The Plan (para 4.71) requires that ‘Assessment of viability will require the submission of detailed evidence relating to trading accounts, valuation considerations and the marketing of the business or property at a reasonable price for a minimum of 12 months’. Yet the report makes no mention of this, choosing instead (p58) to rely on the owner’s assertion that the business has not been profitable for the past 4 years. Why has the Plan’s test not been applied here?
The report contends (p58) that approval of this application would enable the Dairy to expand their activities and increase their workforce. Yet there is no obligation in place to link this aspiration to the permission, should it be granted. So will any weight be given to this claim?
Tom Devine spoke in relation to the Solar Farm application at Langford…..have the councillors given any thought to the neighbouring solar farm facility at Tidehill which is just 1.2km away at the nearest point which is 158 acres? Although being in East Devon have they considered cumulative impact on the landscape and the possibility of further development of solar farms in this area or other parts of Devon at present potentially totalling 922 acres?
Secondly, developers quoted that the concerns of the local community and business have been met, but have they? There would considerable impact on tourism as they would be deterred from staying in an area surrounded by solar panels as there are several bed and breakfast and holiday lets which have been ignored. Why has this not been considered?
Finally, the proposal has over 20 miles of solar arrays, have you considered the impact of large vehicles visiting the site twice a year that will need to travel along the arrays to clean the panels using deionised water and applying weed killer and cutting the grass?
Barbara Jones, spoke in relation to the straw bale house at Stenhill application……I understand that Mid Devon Council has declared a Climate Emergency and committed to be carbon neutral by 2030. If you are serious about that, you have to do things significantly different or as Henry Ford said if you always do things the way you always did you’ll always get what you always got!
As planners you’ve the opportunity to implement the bigger picture. Keeping the Climate Emergency in mind you have the power to interpret planning policy in order to do something that actually makes a difference. Your officers may give a narrow focus that doesn’t put the sustainability of the proposal first but as councillors you can be bold and make a statement that says Mid Devon District Council pays more than lip service to becoming carbon neutral.
I would have thought you would want to give a really clear message that says this is what we mean by an exemplar sustainable building but at the moment the recommendation is to refuse a zero carbon house. What message does that give? I personally have guided plenty of these sorts of buildings through the process and worked with some truly forward thinking planners.
My question to you is this … are you, Mid Devon District Council willing to stand up and be counted and put your decisions where you say your commitments are?
Terry Matthews speaking in relation to the proposed Solar Farm stated…..given that such an installation could be in place for the next 40 years who will be responsible for ensuring that all these unique conditions will be complied with. Who will be responsible for ensuring that these conditions are delivered? What would be the consequences if they are not complied with especially regarding flood control and wildlife habitation? The last part of this question is, what are the consequences of non-compliance enforceable by MDDC over the next 40 years and what assurances do Mid Devon Council have for the long term capability of enforcing them? I ask that question because there are similar solar farms on a smaller scale not a million miles away where complaints have been made for example about screening and the developers have yet to address those.
The second question is, what in lay man terms are the benefits to local residents for such a huge installation?
Sally Matthews speaking in relation to the same application asked is there a minimum term for the duration of the solar panels? Are there any break clauses, for example, due to advances in technology that could lead to the agricultural land being changed to green field leading to its change in use?
Another question, what assurances can be given to the public that the planning decision will not be influenced by the perceived potential financial implications to Mid Devon District Council? I ask this question because the officer recommendation places a heavy weight on perceived potential, financial risks and hazards to MDDC in the event of an appeal or public enquiry?
Tristan Parsons – Provided the following statement which was read out by the Chairman:
Thank you for your invitation to the committee meeting for this application.
Unfortunately, I am unable to attend due to work commitments. I would be grateful if my original letter (forwarded below) could be read for the committee on my behalf or otherwise brought for consideration.
I have summarised my letter as follows:
• Devon and Mid Devon councils have set ambitious climate goals for 2030 and 2050.
• Transitioning away from fossil fuel energy production and towards renewables is essential for achieving these aims.
• These solar panels will significantly contribute to local energy needs, providing for 10,000 homes.
• The scheme will provide £190,000 in business rates for the council to fund other local needs.
• It will also contribute a biodiversity net gain on sub-prime agricultural land.
• The proposals are far more viable than other forms of panelling, such as industrial roofs.
Richard Hughes, again speaking in relation to the Deer Barn application at Hockworthy, specifically the erection of a new reinstated stone wall…..asked…… What are MDDC’s Planning Regulations in relation to the removal of an established ‘bank’ and hedge, or any sort, within a conservation area?
What are MDDC’s thoughts about the creation of an entrance way in a conservation area, without planning permission?
If an application and/or its supporting documentation are found to be misleading and/or contradictory in its claims will the application be considered?
This site has had a recent enforcement case against it with major implications on this application – this case appears to have been put on hold – if the terms of the enforcement case are NOT met by this application will the case be reinstated?
The Chairman stated that the questions would be addressed when each item was discussed.