Residents have expressed fears that their area will become “littered” with solar farms, turning the open countryside into an industrial prison-like scene.
A solar farm and energy storage facility has been proposed for farmland south of Gately Moor Reservoir, Redmarshall Road, Bishopton, for 40 years.
Harry Wilder of developer Darlington Solar 1 told advisers to Darlington Borough Council’s planning committee: “That’s a very small amount of land for a large amount of clean, renewable energy.
“The projects we build will help everyone, but they will also potentially disadvantage the few who are nearby, and weighing the impacts we have on the communities that host our projects is a crucial part of this process.”
Mr Wilder said the Gately Moor solar farm scheme would provide jobs as well as £100,000 to local charities or community groups, although planning officials said that fund was not part of the considerations of the committee.
He added: “Solar power is significantly cheaper than any other form of generation on the market. The more solar power we have, the lower everyone’s bills will be.”
His agent Philip Smith, along with the plaintiff, later said, “We’re not saying electric bills are going to go down.”
He said the falling cost of solar power will fuel what consumers pay, as distributors’ reduced costs will “hopefully” be passed on.
He said the plan would help ‘keep the lights on’, generating enough power for the national grid for 16,700 homes, helping to tackle fuel poverty and save around 25,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions a year. .
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The plan – also to be considered by Stockton Borough Council – prompted seven letters of objection, with opposition from the Campaign to Protect Rural England.
Objector Mark Smith said it was a “very big project” that would change the campaign.
He said: “I think we have to take into account that a large number of other solar farms have been planned within a four mile radius of the village of Bishopton. At the current count there are 11 separate sites.
“I think you have to consider the cumulative effect of all these sites together.”
Another objector, Nick Brown, said: “It’s an oversized development.
“There will be security fencing around the solar farm and CCTV monitors. This will create a prison effect on the area.
“The banks of solar panels… will also make it feel like you’re driving through an industrial area.
“The area will actually become littered with solar farms.”
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Philip Watson of Bishopton Parish Council said: “The development will have a huge visual impact on the village. The amount of CCTV is excessive and intrusive.
“The conservation area must be protected, as must the rural identity of the village.”
Opponents also raised issues of consultation and road safety.
Council planning officers recommended approval of the scheme, saying the concerns of opponents had been weighed against the benefits.
Senior planning officer Lisa Hutchinson said: “This development would generate a significant amount of electricity from renewable sources.
“While there would be localized damage to the character, quality and distinctiveness of the local landscape, given that this is a significant development in open countryside… it would not be substantial.
“Yes, there will be impacts but with mitigation measures that can be reduced to an acceptable level.”
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Cllr Cyndi Hughes said: “40 years in terms of planning is not really a long time, but 40 years in the lives of residents is a long time, so we have to get it right.
“I’m afraid we’ve been led to a certain decision.”
Cllr Gerald Lee said he was a strong supporter of reducing carbon emissions, but also aware of the issues of food production, security and scarcity.
“We have to consider the immediate, which is the climate,” he said, suggesting the plan should be allowed.
The vote was carried 9-2 to approve the solar farm with 20 conditions.
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