East Devon: Battle lines are drawn over controversial solar farm
By Kate Baxter
13th Sep 2023 | Local News
Devon villagers go into a fierce 'grass not glass' battle on Tuesday, with a barrister and a high-profile pressure group preparing to fight their corner.
The county's branch of the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE) are backing residents of Marsh Green near Aylesbeare as they take on a company that wants to build a 60,000-panel solar farm across 27 fields.
Planning officers recommended the scheme should go ahead when it came before East Devon District Council (EDDC) last December, but councillors voted narrowly to reject the scheme.
The site was waterlogged when councillors went to visit, which supported the protesters' argument that the land is not suitable for a solar farm.
Councillors are also concerned about visual impact, land classification and the impact on a designated heritage asset.
An inquiry will be held at the district council's offices in Honiton, with protesters' legal costs being paid for after a £20,000 crowdfunding campaign.
Cllr Todd Olive (Lib Dem, Whimple and Rockbeare), who is an expert witness on planning, is supporting residents. He said: "We'll be fighting hard to make sure the democratic voice of residents is properly heard – and respected.
"It is an uphill battle for us. EDDC has dropped a couple of the reasons for last year's refusal that the planning committee no longer felt were defensible, which is unfortunate.
"Impact on the landscape and heritage are the two main prongs of attack EDDC is pursuing. We are contributing quite substantial evidence on the landscape front and are continuing to pursue issues relating to flooding and concerns about bringing HGVs down tiny Devon lanes.
"The other point of contention that we are defending is the issue of agricultural land."
The CPRE has a nationwide 'grass not glass' campaign which opposes what it claims are 'industrial-scale' solar farms like the one proposed near Aylesbeare.
Devon CPRE director Penny Mills said: "The Marsh Green application was turned down for the right reasons last year, and we hope the inspector will respect the wishes of the local community this time around too.
"Residents have clearly said 'No, we don't want this'. Will their voices be heard by the inspector or will the wishes of yet another small rural community be ignored? It's a matter of democracy."
Solar farm developments have recently been permitted elsewhere in the east of the county, at Whimple and Clyst Hydon. Another is pending at Aylesbeare.