| 'In a Pickle' - Chairman of Solar Firm Lark Energy - Cllr Marco Cereste, |
also Leader Peterborough City Council
Plans to build one of Britain’s largest solar farms are at the centre of a legal battle after being blocked in an unprecedented intervention by ministers, reports The Daily Telegraph.
The group, Lark Energy (Chairman is Cllr Marco Cereste, Leader Peterborough City Council) which has already been given permission to build a smaller solar farm on part of the same site, insisted the proposals – on “predominantly low grade agricultural land” – were supported by a majority of the local people it consulted.
The plans have also prompted fierce local opposition. Five parish councils formally objected, and in February the scheme was refused planning permission by Waveney District Council, which said the panels, each up to 10ft tall, would be “alien features” in the surrounding “picturesque” landscape.
However, Lark Energy (Chairman is Cllr Marco Cereste, Leader Peterborough City Council) appealed against the decision and, in July, Neil Pope, a planning inspector, gave permission for the solar farm to be built on the basis that its benefits would “outweigh” the “limited harm” it would cause to the landscape.
Now, Mr Pickles has overturned Mr Pope’s ruling.
The scheme is one of a series of appeals formally recovered by ministers this year. In June Mr Pickles announced new planning guidance stating that green energy targets should not automatically override the planning concerns of local communities.
His intervention was welcomed by local groups which have complained that their attempts to stop wind and solar farms being built were made difficult by the much greater resources of the developers.
Wind power has attracted opposition from communities near many planned schemes who say it ruins their views and causes noise pollution.
Mr Pickles’s decision to reject the appeal for the Ellough scheme is the first time he has overturned a planning inspector’s decision to allow a wind or solar project.
The move has infuriated the solar industry, which is concerned that this could be the first of many schemes killed off by the intervention of ministers.
The wind industry is also concerned, partly because of the delay Mr Pickles’s involvement adds to the planning process for each project.
Paul Barwell, of the Solar Trade Association, said: “This project is consistent both with our best practice guidelines and DCLG’s [the Department for Communities and Local Government’s] own planning practice guidance for renewables. We are seeking to meet with Government to discuss the dangerous precedent this decision seems to set.
“DCLG’s guidance says the need for renewable energy shouldn’t overrule the local environment.
"But, by the same token, given this project’s minimal impact on the local environment and its support from the community, it’s equally fair to say that the need to flex political muscle shouldn’t overrule the need for renewable energy.”
A spokesman for Renewable UK added: “In order to ensure continued much needed investment in our energy industry, it’s crucial that developers have the confidence that decisions are taken in a predictable and timely fashion.”
Lark Energy (Chairman is Cllr Marco Cereste, Leader Peterborough City Council) built Britain’s biggest solar farm on a disused airfield in Wymeswold, Leics.
Jonathan Selwyn, the firm’s managing director said of the Ellough scheme: “The project is entirely consistent with the Government’s new 'planing practice guidance for renewable and low carbon energy' which was published after the public inquiry concluded."
“It is also consistent with the Solar Trade Association’s ’10 Commitments’, a voluntary industry code of practice for solar development.”
In June, Greg Barker, the energy and climate change minister, said it was his ambition for 20GW of energy to be produced by solar panels by 2020 - effectively a 10-fold increase in the number of solar farms currently built or being planned.
However, Mr Barker has insisted that he wants panels to be “targeted” on industrial roofs, homes and brownfield sites, “not on our beautiful countryside”.
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